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Fitness Benefits of Echinacea

Background: Echinacea is a purple flowering plant, also called purple coneflower, coneflower and American Coneflower. According to the NCCAM, there are 9 known species of Echinacea and all are native to the United States. Its Latin names are Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida. Echinacea purpurea is considered the most potent and most commonly used. The roots and above ground parts of the plant may be used fresh or dried to make tea, extracts and other formulations.

Benefits and Side Effects: Some of the beneficial claims of Echinacea include, boosting the immune system, combating major diseases, such as cancer, treating upper respiratory illnesses, preventing colds, flu and other infections. Echinacea has also been used to treat wounds and skin problems. Some of the most common side effects include allergic reactions, increased asthma, skin rashes and anaphylaxis. When taken orally, Echinacea typically does not induce side effects.

Evidence: The study results on Echinacea are mixed. NCCAM has funded testing using fresh pressed Echinacea purpurea for treating colds in children. They found no benefit from this study. Another study, funded by NCCAM, combined a mixture of Echinacea angustifolia root and Echinacea purpurea and herb in adults to determine whether it prevented or reduced cold symptoms. No benefit was found. Some studies do point to a benefit in treating upper respiratory infections. Recent in vivo studies in mice, conducted by McGill University, show very promising results. These findings may be significant since humans share 97% genetic commonality with mice and we have the same basic physiology. Their data indicates that Echinacea does extend the life span of aging mice, reduce or eliminate leukemia and extends the life of both leukemic and healthy mice.  The McGill data strongly suggests that Echinacea has the capacity to shrink tumors and viral infections. In healthy adult mice, generation of NK cells, that prevent cancers and other diseases, was significantly increased by daily consumption of Echinacea, within one to two weeks.

Some controversy exists regarding the duration of consumption of Echinacea in humans. Many commercial products recommend using the herb for several weeks and then taking a break. The theory is that extended long term use may create a dependence on the herb or chronic overstimulation of the immune system, potentially weakening it. The McGill study showed quite the opposite… that daily use of Echinacea for 13 months significantly extended the lifespan of those mice (74% survival rate vs. 46% survival in the control group). The beneficial NK cell count was significantly elevated at every sampling interval in the Echinacea group over the 13 month period.

The NCCAM does not yet recognize Echinacea as an effective prevention for the common cold. However, NCCAM does support the continued study of Echinacea for upper respiratory infections and its effects on the immune system.

Echinacea exploded onto the world market about 15 years ago and is one of the top selling herbs of all time. 

This article was provided by Assured Fitness Personal Training
For more information on Assured Fitness Personal Training, check out their full profile here.
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