Click to purchase Purple Coneflower – Echinacea Purpura
NOTE: These indications are only for use with embryonic plant stem cell tissues. Adult plants do not have the same constituents, actions or applications in most cases.
Echinacea is a perennial, native to North America. The 5 to 6 inch daisy-like flowers have florets around a prominent centre. The branches are 2 to 5 ft tall with long and the leaves are dark green leaves. The colors of the flowers range from white to purple. They flower the whole summer.
Recent news reports were hard to miss: three major studies trashing echinacea in the last year alone. So what is the truth? First and foremost none of the studies were ever done on embryonic form of echinacea embryonic roots which in my opinion would be more potent than any other type of maceration. For one you would have all of the plant stem cells and plant growth, immune and stress hormones present giving the extraction more health benefits via its other phytochemical constituents potentiating biological actions.
Echinacea is a powerhouse of phytochemical constituents in the fight against colds and flu, as well as other viruses and infections. Not only has echinacea earned a slot among Dr. James Duke’s Dozen, second only to garlic, but it also should rate a space in anyone travel bag, no matter where one goes along with our Tamiflu equivalent Black Elder – Sambucus Nigra (buds). It might be best to reach for echinacea only when colds are all around you–or at the first hint of symptoms. Starting taking echinacea in October, at the beginning of cold and flu season, and taking a few days off every two to three weeks and never year round.
It can be concluded from both traditional use and clinical studies that echinacea acts on the immune system at various sites in the body. Hence, for echinacea to exert this influence, it seems reasonable to suggest that the active phytochemicals must be absorbed in significant quantities in the bloodstream. Accordingly, both test tube (in vitro) and clinical pharmacokinetic research was initiated to understand which of the key phytochemicals in a lipophilic extract of echinacea root were absorbed. In contrast to the polysaccharides, alkylamides were found to be highly bioavailable.
Al, Cr, Co, Fe, Mg, Mn, Na, P, K, Se, Si, Su, Ti, Zn.
Vitamins and Minerals:
C, Calcium, B-1, B-2, B-3
3,5-Dicaffeoyl-Quinic-Acid, Sesquiterpene Abscisic acid (AB), Alpha-Pinene, Apigenin, Arabinogalactan, Ash, Auxins, (IAA), Beta-Carotene,Beta-Sitosterol, Betaine, Bornyl acetate, Brassinosteroids(BR), Caffeic acid, Caryophyllene, Caryophyllene-epoxide,Caleosins, Chloride,Chlorogenic acid, Cichoric acid methyl ester, Cynarin, Cytokinins (CK), Alkylamide Echinacein (dodeca-(2E,6Z,8E,10E)-tetraenoic acid), Echinacin, Echinacoside, Echinolone, Fat, Ferulic acid, Fiber, Germacrene-D, Gibberellins (GA), Glutathione, Heteroxylan, Humulene,Immunoglobulin, Inulin, Isochlorogenic acid, Isorhamnetin 3 rutinoside, Jasmonates-Jasmonic acid (JA), Kaempferol, Ligand, Lipids phospholipid composition Exporters, Luteolin, Meristems PSC, N-Triacontanol, Oleosins, Palmitic-acid, Polysaccharides: 4-O-methylglucuronoarabinoxylan, arabinorhamnogalactan, xyloglucan. Polyacetylene content of 2 mg% trideca-1-en-3,5,7,9,10-pentayne and pontica-epoxide, Polyamines, Proteins, and Peptides, Quercetin, Quercetagetin,Stigmasterol, Trideca-1-EN-3,5,7,9,10-Pentayne, Salicylates (SA), Tussilagine, Vanillin, Verbacoside. The highest content ofCichoric acid was found at stage I (4.67%) which is the embryonic roots stage growth.
Long-term use of echinacea is not only safe, but also distinctly beneficial. There is no sound reason why a generalcontraindication ofechinacea in autoimmune disease should exist; in fact, there is evidence suggesting to the opposite, that indeed it could be beneficial. The traditional way echinacea was used has been validated by scientific research at the cutting edge of modern immunology.
Pyrrolizidine alkaloids with an unsaturated nucleus, such as those found in comfrey, are known to be hepatotoxic with long-term use. However, the pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in echinacea, isotussilagine and tussilagine, possess a saturated nucleus. Currently, this category of pyrrolizidines has not been found to be hepatotoxic.
References : Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal medicines: a guide for health-care professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press, 1996.
Common side effects reported from use of Echinacea are headache, dizziness, nausea, constipation, mild epigastric pain, and rash.
Theoretically echinacea may antagonize the effects of immunosuppressant. The suggested potential to stimulate TNF-a, IL-1, and IL-6 lead some to believe that it should not be used by AIDS patients, as it may speed the course of their disease. CYP3A4: Echinacea inhibits CYP3A4 in vitro, indicating that it could theoretically increase serum levels and adverse effects of drugs like alprazolam, calcium-channel blockers, and protease inhibitors. Furthermore, as an immune stimulant, caution should be used in combining it with immuno-suppressive drugs such as corticosteroids, cyclosporine, amiodarone, methotrexate, and ketoconazole.
In vitro studies shoe echinacea to be a mild inhibitor of cytochrome p450 3A4 enzyme complex system, leading to increased levels of metabolization of some drugs such as itraconazole, fexofenadine, and lovastatin.
Pregnancy and Lactation:
There are no known contraindications to the use of Echinacea preparations during pregnancy and/or lactation. However, a remark in the German Commission E monograph on Echinacea purpurea states that it is contraindicated in pregnancy (De Smet et al., 1993). Pregnant and lactating women are advised to consult their physicians prior to using any medication.
Plant Stem Cell Therapy Indications:
‘P’ To prevent the common colds. The embryonic roots are used for rabies (hydrophobia), especially a set of symptoms of the later stages of an infection, in which the victim has difficulty swallowing, shows panic when presented with liquids to drink, and cannot quench his or her thirst, also for snakebites, and septicemia. Excellent in viral diarrhea. A 90% protection rate was shown to be effective against Candida albicans. Stimulate the immune system to counter both bacterial and viral infections. The polysaccharides have an antihyaluronidase action, inhibiting the ability of viruses to enter and take over cells, while the alkamides areantibacterial and antifungal. Clinical study an extract of echinacea significantly increased the resistance to flu and reduced the symptoms of lymph gland swelling, inflamed nasal passages and related sinus headache (Braunig, et al. 1992).
The antiviral and anti-tumor effect of Echinacea is mostly like due to an interferon beta-2 and interleukin-1 activity. The antiviral effect has been shown effective against viruses such as influenza, and vesicular stomatitis virus. Blocking of the receptor site of the virus on the surface of the cell membranes is the mechanism. Inhibition of hyaluronidase or related to T-cell excitation and the transcription of viral RNA is also suspected. Antibacterial properties are relatively mild but have been proven effective againstStaphylococcus aureus, Corynebacterium diphtheria, and Proteus vulgaris.
The polysaccharides in Echinacea have shown significant anti-fungal action from systemic infection such as Candida albicansand Listeria monocytogenes. The plant both stimulates the properdin/complement system, which helps the body control and prevents infections, and increases production of alpha- and alpha-2 gamma globulins, which prevents viral and other infections. Cichoric acid has been shown to possess phagocytosis stimulatory activity in vitro and in vivo,
‘P’ Clinical study of echinacea showed an increase of 50%-120% in immune function over a 5 day period (Jurcic, et al. 1989). Echinacea stimulates the immune system against bacterial and viral infections. Echinacea protects against many pathogenic infections by stimulating phagocytosis (white blood cells), stimulates monocytes, CD 4 helper T-cell formation, and also natural killer NK cells. Echinacea prevents the production of an enzyme, which destroys the barrier between healthy tissue and pathogenic microorganisms. The Echinacea alkylamides tended to modulate the immune responses of macrophages (are white blood cells within tissues, produced by the division of monocytes) and T cells, toning the response down in the face of a strong stimulus, hence helping the immune system to operate more efficiently. CB1 receptors are highly localized in the central nervous system (CNS) and are believed to primarily modulate behavior, while CB2 receptors predominate in immune tissues outside the CNS, especially the spleen, and are believed to modulate immune function. Echinacea may be mediated by the interaction of Echinacea alkylamides withcannabinoid receptors. for the systemic immune effects of Echinacea lipophilic extracts and that this immune modulating activity is (at least in part) due to the interaction of alkylamides with cannabinoid receptors, specifically CB2. Echinacea-induced new TNFa transcripts (mRNA) were not translated into TNFa itself. When monocytes are treated with LPS (lipopolysaccharide or endotoxin, a powerful stimulator of the immune system) TNFa protein production is substantially increased. When monocytes are treated with LPS (lipopolysaccharide or endotoxin, a powerful stimulator of the immune system) TNFa protein production is substantially increased. However, co-incubation of monocytes with LPS and Echinacea extract resulted in a strong inhibition of this effect of LPS. Much of the immune activity of the cannabinoid system appears to be mediated by the cytokine network. Cytokines include the interleukins (IL-3, IL-6, etc), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFa ) and the interferons (IFN). The acidic arabinogalactan polysaccharide fraction of echinacea purpurea specifically stimulates macrophages to secrete TNF-a6. Polysaccharide-treated macrophages exhibitedincreased production of TNF-a7.
Investigation over a longer time-span revealed that the lipophilic Echinacea extract, via interaction with CB2 receptors, modulated and prolonged TNFa production following immune stimulation. The results of this study suggest that Echinacea works more as a modulator or facilitator of the immune response, rather than as an immune stimulant. In resting monocytes it prepares them for a quicker immune response byinducing TNFa mRNA.
One of the major components, inulin, activates the alternate complement pathway thus promoting chemotaxis of neutrophils, monocytesand eosinophils, solubization of viruses, and bacteriolysis. Other polysaccharides have also shown significant immunostimulatory effect: stimulating T-lymphocytes, the production of interferon and secretion of lymphokines.
References : This macrophage work was published as Stevenson LM et al in Molecules 2005; 10:1279-1285 and the T cell study is currently awaiting submission for publication.
Agnew LL et al in Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics 2005; 30:363-369.
‘P’ ulcers, psoriasis, acne and eczema. Clinical study of 4500 patients with inflammatory skin conditions, including psoriasis, 85% were cured with topical applications of echinacea salve (Wacker and Hilbig, 1978). Echinacea’s antibacterial properties can stimulate wound healing and are of benefit to skin conditions such as burns and insect bites.
‘A’ Its anti-inflammatory properties may relieve arthritis. Cyclooxygenase and 5-lipoxygenase Inhibitors by 62.4% and 81.8% respectively. Echinacea (mucopolysaccharide component, echinacin) has a cortisone-like activity which inhibits hyaluronidase enzyme that is associated with inflammation and swelling. This is accomplished by maintaining the structure and integrity of collagen matrix in connective tissue and ground substance. Echinacea also increases the cell growth of fibroblasts, activates macrophages,regenerates new tissue andeliminates infectious organisms.
Hematology – Oncology:
‘A’ Lymphatic swelling. Many studies have showed that Echinacea can improve the migration of white blood cells to attack foreign microorganisms and toxins in the blood. Echinacea should be taken frequently, every few hours when the inflammation is still acute and 3 times daily afterwards. The protective effect of caffeoyl derivates from various echinacea species on free-radical induced injury of Type III collagen has been demonstrated the protective ability was likely through a direct scavenging effect on superoxide anion and hydroxyl radicals, and/or on secondary radicals such as C-, N-, or S-centred radicals. According to the Commission E, alcoholic root extracts demonstrated a rate increase in the elimination of carbon particles in the carbon clearance test.
‘A’ Prostatic syndrome (hypertrophy, adenoma), disturbances of bladder functions and urination, chronic inflammation of bladder lining.
The Caco-2 Intestinal Absorption Model
A particular strain of human colon cells (Caco-2) can be grown in a test tube to form a tight layer of single cells (a monolayer). This can serve as a model of absorption by the human digestive tract. The test components are placed on one side of the monolayer and after a period of time anything that has been transported across to the other side of the monolayer is sampled and measured. When the MediHerb scientists carried out this research using the Echinacea Premium extract (made from the roots of E. angustifolia and E. purpurea) they found that:
- All the alkylamides were transported across the Caco-2 monolayer
- The caffeic acid derivates were not transported
- Results from this model indicate that only the alkylamides in Echinacea Premium are likely to be absorbed (and hence bioavailable to the immune system).
The Caco-2 cell line is an immortalized line of heterogeneous human epithelial colorectal adenocarcinoma cells, developed by the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research through research conducted by Dr. Jorgen Fogh.
This Caco-2 work by MediHerb and collaborators has recently been published as: Matthias et al in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics 2004; 29:7-13. Another paper entitled ‘Bioavailability of Echinacea constituents: Caco-2 monolayers and pharmacokinetics of the alkylamides and caffeic acid conjugates’ was published as: Matthias et al in Molecules 2005; 10:1242-1251.
A recent significant discovery, first presented at a major international conference, was the observation by two separate research teams that the immune effects of Echinacea may be mediated by the interaction of Echinacea alkylamides with cannabinoid receptors. A Swiss research team found that an in vitro immune-modulating effect of a lipophilic Echinacea extract (and individual alkylamides) on monocytes/macrophages could be neutralized by the presence of agents which block CB2 cannabinoid receptors. Bauer, in collaboration with US scientists, found that alkylamides from Echinacea bound to both CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. In particular, certain alkylamides exhibited selectivity for CB2 receptors.
Taken together, these developments first presented at the conference suggest the hypothesis that the alkylamides are largely responsible for the systemic immune effects of Echinacea lipophilic extracts and that this immune modulating activity is (at least in part) due to the interaction of alkylamides with cannabinoid receptors, specifically CB2.
CB1 receptors are highly localized in the central nervous system (CNS) and are believed to primarily modulate behavior, while CB2 receptors predominate in immune tissues outside the CNS, especially the spleen, and are believed to modulate immune function. Cannabinoid receptors are remarkably preserved across the animal kingdom which suggests they play an important developmental and physiological role. Much of the immune activity of the cannabinoid system appears to be mediated by the cytokine network. Cytokines include the interleukins (IL-3, IL-6, etc), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFa) and the interferons (IFN).
The Swiss team mentioned above has followed on from this ground-breaking research and shown that certain Echinacea alkylamides bind strongly to CB2 receptors. In addition they have shown that alkylamides also exert additional effects on immune cells which are independent of CB2. Their research has been particularly insightful into one aspect of the mode of action of Echinacea alkylamides. A lipophilic extract of Echinacea purpurea strongly stimulated TNFa mRNA synthesis in peripheral monocytes, but not TNFa protein production. In other words, the Echinacea-induced new TNFa transcripts (mRNA) were not translated into TNFa itself. When monocytes are treated with LPS (lipopolysaccharide or endotoxin, a powerful stimulator of the immune system) TNFa protein production is substantially increased. However, co-incubation of monocytes with LPS and Echinacea extract resulted in a strong inhibition of this effect of LPS. This is consistent with the findings of the MediHerb research team.
Investigation over a longer time-span revealed that the lipophilic Echinacea extract, via interaction with CB2 receptors, modulated and prolonged TNFa production following immune stimulation. The results of this study suggest that Echinacea works more as a modulator or facilitator of the immune response, rather than as an immune stimulant. In resting monocytes it prepares them for a quicker immune response by inducing TNFa mRNA. However, in over stimulated monocytes (as in the case of LPS) it first reduces and then extends their response in terms of TNFa production. In particular, these key findings challenge the mythology that traditional Echinacea extracts will “over stimulate and wear out” the immune system if taken continuously.
A New Understanding of Echinacea
The research on Echinacea Premium by the MediHerb scientists has made a substantial contribution to a new understanding of lipophilic extracts of Echinacea. It can be concluded from this research that:
- Alkylamides must be used as the markers of quality and activity
- The root of Echinacea is the preferred plant part, since it is highest in alkylamides
- The preferred species of Echinacea are E. angustifolia and E. purpurea since they contain high levels of alkylamides (compared to E. pallida)
- Echinacea must be extracted using an alcohol percentage sufficiently high to efficiently extract the alkylamides
- Echinacea modulates the immune response by the interaction of the bioavailable alkylamides with CB2 receptors
- Echinacea root (rich in alkylamides) additionally boosts the white cell count, especially NK cells
- The traditional way Echinacea was used has been validated by scientific research at the cutting edge of modern immunology
- 1. Wagner H. Herbal immunostimulants. Z Phytotherapy 1996; 17(2): 79-95
- 2. Felter HW, Lloyd JU. King’s American Dispensatory. 18th Edn, 3rd revision. first published 1905, reprinted Eclectic Medical Publications, Portland, 1983.
- 3. Ellingwood F. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy. Eclectic Medical Publications, Portland, 1993.
- 4. Bauer R, Wagner H. In Wagner H, Farnsworth NR eds. Economic and Medicinal Plant Research, Vol 5, Academic Press, London, 1991.
- 5. Melchart D, Clemm C, Weber B et al. Polysaccharides isolated from Echinacea purpurea herba cell cultures to counteract undesired effects of chemotherapy Ð a pilot study. Phytother Res 2002; 16: 138-142
- 6. Gertsch J, Schoop R, Kuenzle U et al. Alkylamides from Echinacea purpurea potently modulate TNF-alpha gene expression: Possible role of cannabinoid receptor CB2, NF-k B, P38, MAPK and JNK pathways. International Congress on Natural Products Research, Phoenix, Arizona USA, July 31-August 4, 2004, Lecture O:9
- 7. Woelkart K, Xu W, Makriyannis A et al. The endocannabinoid system as a target for alkamides from Echinacea roots. International Congress on Natural Products Research, Phoenix, Arizona USA, July 31-August 4, 2004, Poster P:342
- 8. Ralevic V. Cannabinoid modulation of peripheral autonomic and sensory neurotransmission. Eur J Pharmacol 2003; 472(1-2): 1-21
- 9. Salzet M, Breton C, Bisogno T et al. Comparative biology of the endocannabinoid system possible role in the immune response. Eur J Biochem 2000; 267(16): 4917-4927
- 10. Fride E. The endocannabinoid-CB receptor system: Importance for development and in pediatric disease. Neuro Endocrinol Lett 2004; 25(1-2): 24-30
- 11. Raduner S, Majewska A, Chen J-Z et al. Alkylamides from Echinacea Are a New Class of Cannabinomimetics. J Biol Chem 2006; 281(2): 14192-14206
- 12. Gertsch J, Schoop R, Kuenzle U et al. Echinacea alkylamides modulate TNF-a gene expression via cannabinoid receptor CB2 and multiple signal transduction pathways. FEBS Letters 2004; 577(3): 563-569
- 13. Miller SC. Echinacea: a miracle herb against aging and cancer? Evidence in vivo in mice. eCAM 2005; 2(3): 309-314.
It is worthwhile at this point to examine some of the erroneous conclusions about the use of echinacea which have been drawn from this research on polysaccharides. In vitro effects observed on isolated cells are not necessarily translatable to whole organisms. In other words, there are biological mechanisms in the whole organism that can modify the effects observed in vitro models. In particular, gastrointestinal breakdown, poor absorption and poor tissue mobility of polysaccharides would suggest there are many significant unknowns in the translation of in vitro findings to effects in a living organism after oral dosage. Clinical research reveals the fundamental flaw behind attempts to explain the activity of echinacea in terms of polysaccharides. In the trial, the polysaccharides were administered by injection because their oral bioavailability is uncertain. If the trial scientists had believed that the polysaccharides were orally active, then they would have administered them this way.
Alkylamides Are Bioavailable. It can be concluded from both traditional use and clinical studies that echinacea acts on the immune system at various sites in the body. Hence, for echinacea to exert this influence, it seems reasonable to suggest that the active phytochemicals must be absorbed in significant quantities in the bloodstream. Accordingly, both test tube (in vitro) and clinical (pharmacokinetic) research was initiated to understand which of the key phytochemicals in a lipophilic extract of echinacea root were absorbed. In contrast to the polysaccharides, alkylamides were found to be highly bioavailable.
Contraindications? However, in over stimulated monocytes (as in the case of LPS) it first reduces and then extends their response in terms of TNFa production. In particular, these key findings challenge the mythology that traditional Echinacea extracts will over stimulate and wear outthe immune system if taken continuously. The term most used these days for the action of Echinacea on the immune system is immuno-modulation, as it seems to stimulate in some conditions, sedate in others and moderate in still other conditions. There has been much speculation over the immune stimulation effect. Some feel that it could cause, or at least be contraindicated, in autoimmune disease such as MS, AIDS and Chronic fatigue syndrome. Extensive studies have been done on this, with no clinical or pharmaceutical evidence that the various form of Echinacea is contraindicated in these conditions.
Another area of debate is Echinacea`s long term use: many feel that Echinacea will lose its effectiveness after being used for five to ten days. This concept started from the miss translation of a few German graphs, one from an oral double blind study with E. purpurea versus placebo. In this graph, it clearly shows that phagocyte action increased up by 120% over five days, slowly going down to only 20% above placebo after 11 days. At first glance this might appear to indicate it loses effectiveness, but at a closer look, one will find that the subjects where only using Echinacea extract for five days. In fact the study shows it still has action up to six days after it use is stopped. There have been several studies that have shown that there is no problem with long term use. One study showed no adverse effect for Echinacea used for 12 weeks. Another study showed that immune function was better after 10 weeks of continues use than at 2 weeks, which was also significantly better than before therapy started.
Echinacea (most likely a lipid-soluble and/or polar fractions ) has also been shown to increase properdin that stimulates alternate complement pathways, thus mediating antibiotic and antineoplastic activity. These same components have shown significant inhibition of the growth of Walker carcinosarcoma and lymphocytic leukemia. In far advanced colorectal cancer, echinacin along with chemotherapy, increased the survival time of patients taking it over other not taking it. The American Herbal Products Association gives echinacea a class 1 safety rating, which indicates that it is safe when used appropriately (as instructed by the product label) and with the guidance of a healthcare professional. In Germany, use of echinacea is restricted to no longer than eight weeks at a time. This is because after eight consecutive weeks, echinacea losses its effectiveness and may even diminish immune function. Regular users of this herb, need “break” periods: namely, periods of time that they are not taking echinacea in order for it to maintain its ability to enhance immune function and fight infection.
The Myth About Long-Term Use
On the topic of the supposed detrimental effect of long-term use of echinacea, it should be pointed out that the original concerns arose out of a mistranslation/misunderstanding of German clinical research published in 1989. Jurcic and coworkers tested the effect of an Echinacea purpurea tincture on the phagocytic activity of human granulocytes following intravenous or oral administration. This clinical study has been subjected to considerable misinterpretation or over-interpretation, which has led some writers to suggest that echinacea depletes the immune system when used continuously for periods longer than several days.
The reason behind the misunderstanding was that the test dose of echinacea was only given for the first five days, but phagocytic response was tested for 11 days. A cursory examination of the results might lead to the conclusion that echinacea “wears out” the immune system since phagocytic activity peaks at five days and then begins to fall away. But this was only after the echinacea was stopped and activity only fell back to normal levels. So, the study, in fact, demonstrates that phagocytic activity is higher than normal while echinacea is given and when echinacea is stopped, phagocytic activity remains well above normal for a few days. This suggests that far from causing depletion, there is a residual stimulating effect when echinacea is stopped. Moreover, phagocytic activity only returned to normal; that is, there was no depleting effect found, where activity would drop to less than normal.
Echinacea and Autoimmune Disease
There is considerable controversy over the safety and value of echinacea in autoimmune disease. Given the great variety of disorders that come under this classification, and the associated complexity of immune imbalances, it seems unreasonable to suggest there might be no circumstances when the herb is safe and useful. On the other hand, echinacea might not suit all patients with autoimmune disease. On this point, the few documented cases where it might have been associated with a patient’s deterioration have been taken as proof that it is contraindicated in autoimmune disease. However, this ignores the countless cases where echinacea has been safely prescribed in this context.
There is growing evidence from individual cases and experimental models that autoimmune disease is often associated with a defective functioning of some aspect of the immune response, especially involving natural killer (NK) cells. NK cells are part of innate immunity and hence, this aspect of immunity can be deficient in autoimmune disease. In contrast, some aspects of T- and B-cell responses, which form the acquired immune response, usually are overactive in these disorders.
The NK cell deficiencies probably vary across the range of different autoimmune diseases, but also might vary for individual patients expressing a particular disorder. (This latter point might explain why a handful of patients with autoimmune disease do not respond well to echinacea.) For example, patients with systemic lupus erythematosus often are deficient in NK cell function, and the role of NK cells in inhibiting autoimmunity in general has been well-established from experimental models. Natural killer cell dysfunction also is a distinguishing feature of systemic onset juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and circulating NK cells are reduced in psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. A particular focus has been on NKT cells, which are a subset of T-cells that share properties of NK cells and conventional T-cells. NKT cells are potent producers of immunoregularity cytokines that can control an overactive immune response. A survey of patients with different autoimmune diseases found around half had reduced numbers of NKT cells.
Given the above, the findings noted previously by Sandra Miller that Echinacea purpurea root boosts NK cell numbers and function in experimental models are particularly relevant. Dr. Miller and colleague Danielle Delorme also have examined the effects of echinacea root consumption in non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice, a model of human type 1 diabetes. NKT cells are believed to be implicated in type 1 diabetes and their functional and/or numerical deficiency is thought to be largely responsible for the development of this disease in NOD mice. When NOD mice were fed echinacea for varying times, there was a substantial and significant increase in NK cell numbers. This was the only type of immune cell influenced by the echinacea in these mice. The authors concluded:
The observations of the present study have, at least in the animal model of human type 1 diabetes, led to 2 conclusions. First, daily consumption of Echinacea by animals afflicted with this particular autoimmune disease, leads to no negative repercussions, and indeed, may provide all the advantages, in vivo, that consuming this herb does for normal, unafflicted mice (humans). Second, the study may provide evidence for a possible new approach to the treatment of type 1 diabetes. That is, immuno-stimulation only of those cells (NK/NKT) involved in modulating the disease. Echinacea is one such uniquely tailored, immuno-stimulant, whose effect is on NK cells.
Idiopathic autoimmune uveitis usually is treated by oral corticosteroids. It’s an inflammation of part or all of the uvea, the middle (vascular) tunic of the eye, although it also commonly involves the sclera, cornea and the retina. On the basis of the known interaction of echinacea alkylamides with cannabinoid CB2 receptors, which implies immune-modulating and anti-inflammatory activities, a group of Italian clinicians investigated the safety and efficacy of Echinacea purpurea in this autoimmune disease. Fifty-one patients with low-grade autoimmune uveitis were treated with conventional therapy, including oral prednisone. In addition, 32 of these patients were given echinacea as an add-on therapy. At the last follow-up, which was nine months later, 87.5 percent of patients receiving echinacea were in clinical remission compared to 82.3 percent of the control group. However, steroid-off time was significantly higher in the echinacea group (indicating that patients receiving echinacea needed less prednisone to induce remission). The authors concluded that the oral intake of echinacea appears safe and effective in the control of low-grade autoimmune uveitis. No patient showed any side effects or aggravation from the use of echinacea for their autoimmune disease.
References: Kerry Bone is a practicing herbalist; co-founder and head of research and development at MediHerb; and principal of the Australian College of Phytotherapy. Kerry also is the author of several books, including Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy and The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety.
The Truth About Echinacea
Echinacea is truly a miracle herb. First, it contains a natural antibiotic called echinacoside which is actually comparable to penicillin in effect. It can kill a broad range of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. It is also invaluable in healing wounds and treating infectious diseases.