Last updated February 1, 2019 by Lisa Richards, CNC   Reviewed by Zia Sherrell, MPH.

Echinacea: Health Benefits, Dosage, and Side Effects

Echinacea: boost immunity, lower blood sugar, reduce inflammation and Candida symptoms

Suffering the misery of the flu drives Americans to spend over $132 million annually on Echinacea. But avoiding the flu is not the only way that it can help. It can also build up your immunity and support your immune system in its fight against infectious viruses or fungi like Candida albicans.

Echinacea is an amazing little flower and a source of health-giving compounds. It might well be among the first names that first spring to mind when you consider herbs that are used for medicinal purposes.

This herbaceous flowering plant belongs to the daisy or Asteraceae family, which contains over 30,000 species and encompasses other medicinal herbs, including arnica, yellow star thistle and calendula. (1)

You can find echinacea easily in health food stores and even grocery stores. There are a variety of forms available including capsules and pills, teas, liquid extracts or even its natural, dried plant form.

Echinacea is commonly used around the world for support of the immune system, and it is sought-after to support the body in combating the common cold, fighting inflammation, and in many other conditions due to its stimulating effect on immune cells.

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Other benefits of echinacea include lowering blood sugar, reducing inflammation, and alleviating skin conditions. If you are suffering from a chronic gut condition like Candida, these could all be helpful.

If you feel that you need an immune boost, due to an intestinal Candida overgrowth or otherwise, read on to find out how this incredible flower can help you to heal.

What is Echinacea?

Botanical details

Echinacea is native to North America where it is also known as the American or purple coneflower. It is commonly found in open areas, plains, and prairies. The flower is similar to a daisy and has white, pink, purple or more rarely, yellow flowers. The central seed head or cone is slightly spiky – there are thistles in the same family – and is a brown or reddish color.

Of the nine species of this group, three possess attributes desirable in herbal medicine. They are; Echinacea purpurea(common name purple coneflower or eastern purple coneflower), Echinacea angustifolia (common name narrow-leaved coneflower), and Echinacea pallida(common name pale purple coneflower). (2)

Pharmacology

It’s the bioactive ingredients that are found in herbs that allow them to work their magic. There is a diverse range of these active compounds found in the roots, flowers, and leaves of the echinacea plantand they are used for preparations that include tinctures, extracts, and teas.

The compounds found in echinacea include flavonoids, caffeic, phenolic, cichoric and rosmarinic acids, polyacetylenes, glycoproteins, echinacosides, alkylamides, and polysaccharides. (3)

Echinacea is laden with antioxidant compounds which can minimize the damaging effect of free radicals and oxidative stress.  Many chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease have been linked to oxidative stress. (4)

The flavonoids, cichoric and rosmarinic acid, which are found in higher levels of the echinacea flowers rather than the leaves or roots, are excellent antioxidants. Alkamides can further expand on the antioxidant activity of these compounds by helping them to renew or to reach areas of oxidative stress. (5)

History

Native Americans have utilized this pretty little perennial plant for centuries. There are records of it being used by the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Dakota tribes, amongst others. The early European settlers quickly capitalized on its properties as a healing herb and began to use it for saddle sores on their horses. Its use was widespread in Europe by the 1900s and echinacea was first listed in the U. S. National Formulary in 1916.

Today, the use of Echinacea remains popular with an estimated 2.3 million adults using some form of echinacea product annually. (6)

The 4 Health Benefits of Echinacea

Because of its long history, the effects of echinacea have been well researched and confirmed in countless studies in the laboratory, on animal models and in humans. Let’s take a look.

1. Reduced inflammation

Perhaps when you hear the word inflammation, you instantly associate this with negative connotations. However, your body needs the inflammatory process in order to heal wounds and injuries and to defend itself from the assaults of invasive organisms.

Although it is a necessary process, sometimes inflammation can become out of control or continue longer than is necessary. Diseases such as chronic peptic ulcers, tuberculosis, and rheumatoid arthritis have been linked with inflammation. (7)

Another cause of inflammation is gut dysbiosis, which occurs when the microorganisms in your intestines fall out of balance. This can be caused by a variety of factors, including diet and antibiotics, and it allows pathogenic bacteria or yeast to grow out of control. This commonly ends up as SIBO or Candida overgrowth. Consuming echinacea regularly can help to assuage the negative effects of inflammation (8).

Echinacea has also been proven to reduce undesirable inflammatory effects in a range of conditions including bacterial respiratory infections and painful inflammation of the eyes known as uveitis  (X, 9).

Alzheimer’s and memory loss have been linked to inflammation. When researchers used mice to determine the efficacy of echinacea on preventing or alleviating memory loss, the compounds were found to reduce inflammation which, in turn, reduces memory loss. (10)

Sufferers of osteoarthritis have symptoms of inflammation, swelling and chronic pain. These symptoms were significantly reduced by echinacea, in a month-long study of adults with osteoarthritis. The same subjects had previously received no relief of their symptoms by using non-steroidal inflammatory drugs. (11)

2. Decreases blood sugar levels

It is widely understood that high blood sugar has negative consequences for your health, with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and other chronic health conditions. Sugar is also a crucial component of the biofilms created by pathogens like Candida albicans. Because of the enormous public health issue with blood sugar related health conditions, there is a great deal of medical interest in any mechanism that can be used to decrease blood sugar levels.

Echinacea is proving promising with regards to diminishing blood sugar levels, as shown in in-vitro laboratory studies using extracts of Echinacea purpurea. The extract curbed the enzymatic effect of carbohydrate digestion. If less carbohydrate is digested, then less can enter the bloodstream, thereby lowering the level of blood sugar. (12)

Drugs that are used in the treatment of diabetes frequently target a specific receptor named the PPAR-y receptor which is responsible for clearing surplus fats from the blood which can affect insulin resistance. Research has shown that in addition to the lowered rates of carbohydrate digestion, echinacea activated the PAR-y receptor which increased the sensitivity of cells to insulin. (13)

These studies show great promise for echinacea as a way to lower blood sugar. However, there has not been a great deal of research undertaken in humans yet so these effects cannot be confirmed definitively.

3. Increases immune function

The most controversial benefit of echinacea is also its most well-known.  Echinacea is reported to support, increase and modulate immune system function, which is why it is frequently used as a preventative for colds and influenza, or as a way to help your body to overcome a Candida overgrowth.

There is a wealth of research that supports the claims that echinacea has immune-boosting effects. Some studies have found that supplementation with echinacea extract assists your immune system in fighting off viruses and infections, stimulating white blood cell production. This means a shorter recovery time and less intense symptoms. If you suffer from Candida, your body will benefit from an increased ability to combat invading organisms including yeast. (14)

Analysis of fourteen research studies confirmed that dosing with echinacea could decrease the risk of contracting a cold by at least half, and that the duration of illness would also be shortened by one and a half days. (15)

In light of this information, it would seem to be clear-cut that echinacea was valuable in the fight against the common cold. However, there have been further reviews of the research which has shown that the effect is not as apparent as initially thought.

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In 2014, twenty-four trials involving the use of echinacea were analyzed. Most of the trials that demonstrated a positive effect on the immune system with echinacea use were not found to be statistically significant, in other words, the benefit of echinacea was not shown undisputedly. Human error, poorly designed research, or other problems were to blame. (16)

Further research is needed to determine how echinacea can be best used to boost immune function. It shows great potential in some research, but the mechanisms remain unclear.

4. Alleviates skin conditions

There is a consensus that echinacea is useful for topical use on the skin. It increases hydration and reduces the appearance of wrinkles (17).

There is also potential as an acne treatment due to its anti-bacterial constituents, and for eczema, as it lessens the symptoms. (18)

Echinacea Dosage

Standard dosages are not currently available for echinacea due to the lack of empirical data. There have been contradictory findings, and the results have been extremely variable.

A compounding factor is that the level of active echinacea compounds found in a product may not match the level on the label. Researchers found that an alarmingly high volume (10%) of echinacea supplements that did not even contain any echinacea! (19)

If you are purchasing echinacea as a supplement, be sure to stick with a well-known and trusted manufacturer.

In general, it is best to follow the dosage instructions on the label of your supplement, but the following dosages have been shown to aid immunity:

  • Liquid tinctures: up to 10ml daily. For throat infections, you can gargle the tincture.
  • Dry powdered extract: up to 500mg of Echinacea purpurea, three times per day.
  • Tea: you can make tea with the dried echinacea plant. Use up to two grams four to six times a day.

Generally, it is best to supplement with echinacea at the onset of infection and not to take the herb on a daily basis all year around. It has been shown that, over time, echinacea can become less effective. To avoid this, supplement for a one month at a time with a week off in between.

Try to find organic fresh plant extract if you. This avoids any problems with unwanted effects from other chemicals and it has been found to be the most effective.

Side Effects Of Echinacea

For short-term use or occasional use, echinacea and its products are thought to be safe and generally well-tolerated by most individuals. Without further research, the effects of extended use remain uncertain.

As with any supplement or medication, there are risks of side-effects. They may include:

  • headache, dizziness, confusion
  • dry mouth, numb tongue, unpleasant taste in the mouth;
  • nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea
  • muscle or joint pain;
  • fever, sore throat;
  • Itchy skin or a rash (20)

If you think you are having an allergic reaction with signs of swelling, difficulty breathing or severe hives, seek emergency medical attention.

You should take special care if you are allergic to other flowers, especially those in the daisy family. as side-effects will be more likely. (21)

If you are taking immunosuppressive drugs or suffer from an immune disorder, consult with your medical professional before taking echinacea due to its immunomodulatory effects. (22)

Other Natural Supplements That Can Boost Immunity

There is a plethora of natural supplements available that claim they can boost immunity. It is critical to ensure that your chosen supplement really can do what it claims on the label!

These natural supplements have been found to have a positive and proven effect on immunity:

  • Astragalus root. This Chinese herb has a powerful antioxidant effect which can reduce signs of aging and support the internal organs. (23)
  • Black elderberry. Helps with the reduction of blood pressure and sugar due to high-levels of polyphenols. This plant also stimulates the immune system and has potential as an anti-tumor agent. (24)
  • Probiotics. These good bacteria lower the likelihood of disease-causing microbes from entering the bloodstream through the intestines. They also assist with immune system function. (25)

The Bottom Line

There is a great deal of promise for echinacea as a health-supporting dietary supplement. It is generally considered as safe for short-term use, and the risk of side-effects in the general population is low.

More is understood about this healing herb in the laboratory setting rather than in human models, but there is evidence that echinacea can boost immunity, help with blood sugar levels, reduce unwanted inflammation and assist in alleviating a number of skin conditions. Further human-based research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms and value of its action.

For Candida sufferers, some of these benefits are particularly useful. A stronger immune system will help to fight the intestinal overgrowth, while the reduction in inflammation can reduce Candida symptoms. Meanwhile, lower blood sugar levels will help to slow or reverse the spread of Candida albicans.

Try echinacea for yourself and see if you experience the benefits. The odds are in your favor for enjoying the boost to your health that this little daisy can offer.

Filed under: Immune System
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