Introduction What Is Echinacea? What Makes Echinacea Work? Caffeic Acid Derivatives Polysaccharides Lipophilic Components Quality Issues with Echinacea Products Limitations on the Use of Echinacea
Echinacea is probably the most widely used herbal product in the English-speaking world. However, despite its popularity, the scientific understanding of how Echinacea works on the immune system is incomplete. The scientific information that does exist has sometimes been overenthusiastically applied or even misinterpreted. Unfortunately, this has led to some writers suggesting restrictions and contraindications for the use of Echinacea that are premature at best and probably ill advised.
Some of these limitations are essentially derived from the concept that Echinacea stimulates the immune system. The following assumptions are then made:
Since it is not healthy to stimulate the immune system all of the time, Echinacea should only be used as a short-term treatment. Stimulation of the immune system will be detrimental in autoimmune disorders (such as multiple sclerosis) or in disorders where a heightened immune response may be counterproductive (such as AIDS, asthma, leukemia, and tuberculosis); hence Echinacea is con-traindicated in their treatment (Blumenthal et al., 1998).
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