Echinacea 101 - 6 science-backed benefits of Echinacea

Echinacea is one of the most popular herbal remedies for the immune system.

The plant has been used medicinally for centuries by tribes in North America. Traditionally, it was used to treat infectious diseases and wounds.

In recent years, its popularity has exploded with many people using echinacea to weather the flu season and fight off colds. It’s now an essential in any immune-boosting supplement regime. Echinacea is available in teas, capsules, powders, and dried herbs.

Let’s break down exactly what echinacea is and how it could help you.

What is Echinacea?

Echinacea is the name of a group of flowering plants native to North America. For hundreds of years, echinacea has been used medicinally. Early settlers would use echinacea for colds, coughs, toothaches, and even snakebites.

There are about nine commonly recognized species of echinacea. Depending on the species, leaves may be pink or purple. Some of the most common names for echinacea are:

  • Purple coneflower

  • Black Sampson

  • Indian head

  • American coneflower

Echinacea supplements contain the plant’s roots, leaves, stems, and flowers. It’s technically considered a herb. But, you can use the whole of the plant to create teas, liquid extracts, and echinacea supplements. Although native to North America, echinacea is widely available all over the world.

Before 1950, echinacea had medicinal status. In the later part of the nineteenth century, echinacea was the preferred medicine for infections. This was the case for the first few decades of the twentieth century as well.

So, what changed?

The golden era of antibiotics erupted. There was a big shift in the healthcare industry. The focus was on antibiotics, and herbal medicine took a bit of a back burner. Now, many people are looking for more natural ways to stay healthy and feel good.

With a long history of medicinal use, it’s no surprise echinacea is now rising in popularity. The herb has potent anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and antibacterial properties. This helps echinacea to perform as an immune-strengthening agent.

The way you consume echinacea is down to you. Echinacea tea usually contains the E.purpurea plant. In tea, the flower is dried or cut fresh. But, you can also use the roots and leaves to make tea as well.

Echinacea tea can have quite a strong flavor. If you don’t like the taste, you can take echinacea in capsules or liquid extracts. You can also apply it to the skin as an ointment or cream. While some people may enjoy the tea, others prefer the convenience of a supplement.

Top 6 Echinacea Benefits

When it comes to supplements, there’s a lot of information out there. One Google search can hit you with millions of results. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. We take a look at the evidence out there on echinacea, so you don’t have to. Let’s look at the scientific-backed benefits of echinacea.

1. Boost the Immune System

One of the biggest reasons many people use echinacea is for its immune-boosting effects. The herb works as an immune-strengthening agent.

You’re probably thinking, how can echinacea actually help fight colds and flu?

Studies show that echinacea may be useful in shortening the duration of flu symptoms. On top of this, evidence suggests that the herb may reduce your chances of getting a cold by 58%. It also decreases the duration of the cold, like its effect on flu symptoms.

The bottom line is that echinacea may have a powerful effect on the immune system. Research shows that echinacea increases your number of white blood cells. White blood cells are a vital part of your body’s immune response. They help to fight off infections and diseases.

The echinacea plant has a complex mixture of chemical compounds. Its immune-boosting effects are not down to just one chemical compound. There are several complex substances known as phenolic compounds. These compounds appear to work together to produce these immune-enhancing effects.

2. Boost the Immune System

Echinacea contains strong anti-inflammatory properties. So, it makes sense to use it to treat conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, ulcers, and Crohn’s disease. All these conditions are made worse by inflammation.

Evidence suggests that inflammation may be the underlying cause of so many different diseases. The risk of developing chronic inflammation increases with:

  • Stress

  • Obesity

  • Smoking

  • Sleep problems

Research shows that echinacea is an anti-inflammatory agent. This means that regularly taking the herb may help stop or even reverse inflammation in the body. There are many different types of inflammation. It appears that echinacea’s biologically active compounds may support your body and keep inflammation down.

3. Support Upper Respiratory Infections

Another use of echinacea is for the treatment or prevention of upper respiratory infections. Evidence shows thatechinacea reduces the risk of recurrent respiratory infections and complications.

A variety of viruses and bacteria can cause upper respiratory infections. These can result in several diseases like influenza and acute bronchitis.

Echinacea’s anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing effects may help to relieve upper respiratory infections. In particular, it may help to relieve symptoms like strep throat, inflammation, and asthma.

Scientists have explored echinacea’s effect on asthma. They found that echinacea had a similar impact to standard pharmaceutical drugs on asthma symptoms. Echinacea has massive potential as a supplementary treatment to disorders that affect the airways, like asthma.

4. Potent Anti-Viral and Antibacterial Properties

Echinacea’s anti-viral and antibacterial properties are a major contributor to its benefits. Several test-tube studies show that certain echinacea species like E. pallida and E. angustifolia are especially effective at fighting viral infections like influenza and herpes.

Anti-viral and antibacterial properties are part of the reason why echinacea is so popular. It helps to strengthen the immune system to relieve symptoms associated with upper respiratory infections. The species E. Purpurea is thought to be especially useful for treating viral infections.

As well as treating viral infections, echinacea has long been used to treat wounds and upper respiratory infection symptoms caused by bacteria. Evidence shows that the herb is safe to use and has antioxidant and antimicrobial effects.

5. Pain Relief

Although most research surrounding echinacea is on its immune-strengthening effects, it may have a place as a natural pain relief alternative. This is mainly due to the plant’s anti-inflammatory properties.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and affects over 32.5 million adults in the United States. One study investigated the effects of echinacea on adults with osteoarthritis. After supplementing echinacea for 30 days, participants experienced a significant reduction in inflammation, swelling, and chronic pain.

What’s really interesting is that the adults in this study did not respond well to standard non-steroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). But, they found echinacea useful in reducing pain.

6. May Treat Some Skin Conditions

Early research shows that echinacea may be useful in treating some skin conditions. In particular, skin conditions that are caused by different types of bacteria.

Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) is the name of the bacteria that live under the skin. As the name suggests, the bacteria is considered a key player in acne. Research indicates that the severity and frequency of acne are primarily dependent on P. acnes.

One test-tube study found that echinacea helped to suppress P. acnes bacteria. This is due to echinacea’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

Other research shows that creams containing echinacea may help reduce wrinkles, increase skin hydration, improve eczema symptoms, and repair the skin.

Research into the beneficial effects of echinacea is ongoing and growing. Echinacea was once considered the go-to herb for infections and used traditionally for hundreds of years. Immunity is a massive topic of interest right now and always will be. Echinacea looks to support the immune system and help fight colds and flu. With its powerful immune-enhancing, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral effects, echinacea may be the supplement missing from your arsenal.

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