Echinacea: Is It Dangerous?

April 5, 2024

Welcome to Parentalife, your reliable source of guides, courses, and personalized consultancy. Today, we delve into the world of natural remedies with a focus on the herb echinacea, popularly used in traditional and alternative medicine. Let’s explore its benefits, and potential warnings.

What Does Echinacea Do for the Body?

Echinacea is a flowering plant native to North America and is commonly used as a dietary supplement for the common cold and other infections like influenza.

It is believed to boost the immune system, helping the body fight off infections or other diseases.

This is primarily due to its rich content of phenolic compounds, which are active substances that protect the plant from UV radiation damage and infections.

These compounds, when consumed, have a similar effect on our bodies, exhibiting antioxidant properties and supporting our immune system.

Additionally, echinacea is known for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Certain compounds in echinacea bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain which help reduce inflammation.

This makes it potentially beneficial in managing conditions characterized by inflammation such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

However, more comprehensive research is needed to confirm these benefits.

Why Should You Not Take Echinacea Everyday?

While echinacea does offer potential health benefits, it doesn’t mean it should be consumed daily.

This is mainly because echinacea stimulates the immune system and overuse can lead to overstimulation, causing more harm than good.

Overdoing it may lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea, and in rare cases, allergic reactions.

Moreover, continuous daily use of echinacea can lead to a phenomenon called “rebound congestion,” similar to what happens with the overuse of nasal decongestants.

When the herb is taken daily for long periods, the body acclimatizes to its effects, resulting in the user requiring more and more of the herb to achieve the same results.

This cycle can lead to the body becoming less responsive to echinacea’s immune-boosting effects.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Echinacea?

Echinacea, like any supplement, has both pros and cons.

On the positive side, echinacea may help boost the immune system, potentially reducing the frequency and duration of common colds, flu, and other infections.

It also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which may be beneficial for certain health conditions.

On the downside, echinacea can cause side effects, especially when consumed in large quantities or over a long period.

These may include stomach discomfort, rash, allergic reactions, and amplified sun sensitivity. Its effectiveness can also diminish over time, reducing its potential benefits.

Importantly, it may interact with certain medications, so it’s always wise to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement.

Echinacea BenefitsEchinacea Contraindications
– Potential support for the immune system– Allergies: Some individuals may be allergic to echinacea, especially if sensitive to plants in the Asteraceae (Composite) family
– Possible reduction in the duration of cold or flu symptoms– Adverse reactions: Skin reactions such as rash or itching may occur in some individuals
– May have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects– Pharmacological interactions: Echinacea may interact with some medications, including immunosuppressants and anticoagulants, so it is advisable to consult a doctor before taking it
– Some studies suggest potential protective effects against upper respiratory tract infections– Gastrointestinal side effects: Taking echinacea may cause gastrointestinal disturbances such as nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain in some individuals
– Potential utility in reducing the severity of urinary tract infections– Not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding: There is insufficient evidence on the safety of echinacea during pregnancy or breastfeeding, so its use is generally discouraged in these conditions
– Possible improvement in skin conditions such as acne or dermatitis– Not suitable for long-term use: Echinacea is not intended for continuous long-term use, and prolonged use may not be safe or effective

It’s important to always consult a doctor or healthcare professional before starting any echinacea supplementation regimen or any other supplement, especially if you are taking medications or have pre-existing medical conditions.

Is Echinacea a Natural Antibiotic?

While echinacea is not an antibiotic in the traditional sense, it does possess antimicrobial properties.

Studies suggest that it can inhibit the growth of certain bacteria and viruses, including those that cause common infections such as the flu and common cold.

This is likely due to the presence of phenolic compounds, which have known antimicrobial properties.

However, it’s important to note that while echinacea may contribute to overall immune health, it is not a replacement for prescribed antibiotics.

It should not be used to treat bacterial infections that require antibiotics without the advice of a healthcare professional.

Who Cannot Take Echinacea?

While echinacea is generally safe for most people, there are certain individuals who should avoid it.

This includes people with autoimmune disorders, as echinacea could potentially worsen these conditions.

Moreover, people with allergies, especially to plants in the daisy family, may react negatively to echinacea.

People who are taking certain medications, such as immunosuppressants or medications broken down by the liver, should also avoid echinacea as it can interact with these drugs.

echinacea

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also exercise caution, as there’s not enough research to confirm the safety of echinacea during pregnancy and lactation.

Although for adults the use of Echinacea in supplement form may be considered relatively safe when taken for short periods, the situation is more complex for children.

Some studies suggest that it may be safe for children over age 12, but for younger children, research is still limited and guidelines are less clear.

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not currently provide specific guidelines on the use of Echinacea in children, highlighting the need for further research in this area.

In addition, Echinacea may interact with some medications and cause side effects in sensitive individuals.

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SOURCES

1. Fusco D, Liu X, Savage C, Taur Y, Xiao W, Kennelly E, Yuan J, Cassileth B, Salvatore M, Papanicolaou GA. Echinacea purpurea aerial extract alters course of influenza infection in mice. Vaccine. 2010 May 21;28(23):3956-62. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2010.03.047. Epub 2010 Apr 9. PMID: 20382242; PMCID: PMC3016056.

2. Rau┼í K, Pleschka S, Klein P, Schoop R, Fisher P. Effect of an Echinacea-Based Hot Drink Versus Oseltamivir in Influenza Treatment: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Double-Dummy, Multicenter, Noninferiority Clinical Trial. Curr Ther Res Clin Exp. 2015 Apr 20;77:66-72. doi: 10.1016/j.curtheres.2015.04.001. PMID: 26265958; PMCID: PMC4528044.

About the Author

Severino Cirillo

Health, Wellness and Education Expert. With a degree in Community Health, he is the CEO of Informed Parent and is responsible for validating the blog's scientific information and coordinating the editorial team of experts, consisting of gynecologists, midwives, psychotherapists, and others in pregnancy, perinatal, and parenting wellness and health.