Modern research has shown Echinacea purpurea exerts significant effects on immune function in over 300 scientific investigations. However, not all of the clinical studies in humans have been positive.
Mixed results from these studies may be due to lack, or insufficient quantity, of active compounds. Its ability to deliver an effective dosage of active compounds determines the effectiveness of a herbal product.
Echinacea Pros and Cons
The specific components responsible for the immune-enhancing effects of echinacea are the polysaccharides, alkylamides, and cichoric acid. While each of these components is effective alone, the greatest degree of enhancement is when the three components are at a specific ratio (0.25, 2.5, and 25 mg/ml, respectively).
Chemical analysis of commercial echinacea preparations has demonstrated tremendous variation in the levels of key compounds even within the same product from batch to batch. Many manufacturers are not employing the necessary quality control tests required to insure that the echinacea is being grown properly.
There are several critical steps in making an effective echinacea product. First, the plant must be grown under ideal conditions and harvested at the exact time for maximum levels of all active compounds. It is also imperative that the echinacea be treated properly after harvesting. It is absolutely essential to use fresh plant material instead of the dried plant or roots that most manufacturers use. Studies indicate that a significant amount of the active ingredients are destroyed in the drying process.
Processing time is also important. If the plant material is not processed immediately, the content of several key components, especially cichoric acid and alkylamides, will be low. It is also essential that the extraction be carried out under ideal circumstances.
When to Use Echinacea
Based upon currently existing clinical research, the appropriate uses of echinacea include:
- treatment and possible prevention of the common cold and other viral respiratory tract infections
- treatment of temporary immune deficiency and increased susceptibility to infections
- supportive therapy to enhance the effectiveness of antibiotics in bacterial infections
- treatment of chemotherapy and radiation-induced immune suppression
- treatment of herpes simplex infections.
What to Look for in an Echinacea Product
The single most important aspect in getting results from an echinacea product is to make sure that it is guaranteed to provide sufficient levels of all three active compounds in their proper ratio.
A recently published study with the commercially available echinacea product showed just how impressive results can be when a high quality product is used. The formulation containing standardized levels of alkamides, cichoric acid, and polysaccharides prepared from freshly harvested echinacea purpurea plants or a placebo was given to 282 subjects aged 18 to 65 years with a history of two or more colds in the previous year. Subjects were instructed to start the echinacea or placebo at the onset of the first symptom related to a cold, consuming 10 doses the first day and four doses per day on subsequent days for seven days. The total daily symptom scores were found to be 23-percent lower in the echinacea group than in placebo.
The researcher concluded that early intervention with a standardized formulation of echinacea results in reduced symptom severity in subjects with upper respiratory tract infections. Some people cleared their cold symptoms up to three times faster than the placebo group.
Try echinacea this cold season and experience the benefits.