With the arrival of the first cooler days, we start talking about colds and flu again. Did you know that, according to estimates, each of us will spend up to two years of his/her entire life with cold symptoms? And immediately, together with the disease, we also talk about the possible remedy, such as, for example, echinacea. In fact, echinacea is considered the miraculous plant to keep colds and flu at bay. But is it really so or is it just beliefs? Can echinacea help us strengthen our defenses and fight respiratory tract infections? We try to answer these questions based, as always, on the most important scientific research.
Echinacea and flu, preventive action
Echinacea is considered a remedy to prevent colds and flu. However, despite the large use of this plant and its reputation as an antiviral, few studies are available on its real effectiveness. In addition, the few published studies often have mixed results due to the small number of participants. However, what has been observed suggests an effective preventive action by echinacea against respiratory tract infections. A study carried out a few years ago thus sought to clarify, recruiting a larger sample of volunteers, 755, and also establishing a protocol for the intake of echinacea, purpurea variety. It thus emerged that the intake of 2400 mg of echinacea extract per day, to be increased to 4000 mg during the acute phase of a possible respiratory tract infection, for four months, therefore a long period, actually allowed to reduce the number of cold episodes, the number of days spent sick and even the use of drugs, inhibiting the ability of the virus to enter the body and proliferate. In particular, echinacea showed its maximum action in preventing disease recurrence and its effectiveness was all the greater the more people were able to stick to the intake protocol, without forgetting or changing the daily dose (Jawad et al , Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 2012 - Ross, Holist Nurs Pract, 2016).
Echinacea and flu, treatment for the acute phase
Echinacea shows its effectiveness even if it is taken to treat the acute phase of the cold. In fact, the intake of echinacea at the first appearance of the symptoms made it possible to reduce the degree of severity of these as well as the days spent sick. Both echinacea purpurea and angustifolia extracts were used for these studies (Aucoin et al, Adv Integr Med, 2020).
Echinacea and microbiota
We know that a healthy gut microbiota also means a healthy immune system. Well, echinacea extracts have been shown to support the health of good gut bacteria, stimulating their growth and at the same time counteracting the proliferation of bad and pro-inflammatory bacteria (Shaochuan Li et al, Front Vet Sci, 2022).
Echinacea and oral health
The action of echinacea is also expressed in favor of oral health. Studies have shown that echinacea-based mouth rinses reduce the severity and duration of gingivitis and counteract dental plaque (Yazdanian et al, AMB Express, 2022).
A study conducted on mice has shown that echinacea has important anti-aging properties, capable of extending life and reducing the risk of diseases such as cancer. At the moment there is no similar study performed on humans but, as the authors of the research suggest, it is plausible to believe that echinacea can also act as an antioxidant on humans (Miller, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 2005).
Echinacea, intake and side effects
Echinacea is found in the form of extracts in chemist's and herbalist's shops. For the dosage, refer to the instructions on the package, taking into account that studies have shown safety and efficacy for dosages ranging from 400 to 4000 mg per day. Echinacea is generally considered safe, although reactions such as erythema and gastrointestinal disorders have been observed in rare cases and in predisposed people. Not only that, given its supportive action on the immune system, some scientists have advanced the hypothesis that this plant can stimulate an excessive inflammatory response in case of Covid 19 infection, favoring the terrible cytokine storm which, as we have been able to learning in recent years, is the main responsible for severe courses in case of Covid 19 infection. Studies that currently exist on the subject show that echinacea does not cause this excessive response, on the contrary, its action is reflected in a reduction of circulating pro-inflammatory substances (Aucoin et al, Adv Integr Med, 2020). In any case, at present the studies refer only to the efficacy of echinacea in preventing and fighting colds and flu, but there are no studies on the efficacy of echinacea in the case of Covid 19 infection, therefore the echinacea should not be taken to prevent or treat this type of viral infection (Aucoin et al, Adv Integr Med, 2020). Finally, there are three types of echinacea, purpurea, angustifolia and pallida, sold alone or in combination. All three species of echinacea have been shown to regulate the immune system effectively, supporting defenses against respiratory diseases. The angustifolia and pallida types showed greater anti-inflammatory action (Zhai et al, J Med Food, 2008).