Nutrient Spotlight: Echinacea
While this versatile plant has been used as an herbal remedy for centuries, Echinacea is perhaps best known today for its immune boosting properties.
Worldwide, Echinacea is widely known for its ability to reduce the duration and symptom severity of colds. The World Health Organization (WHO) as well as German and Canadian governing bodies advocate the use of Echinacea to help with upper respiratory tract symptoms.1
Most people think of taking Echinacea at the first sign of a cold, and studies have shown that this can help to shorten the duration and ease symptoms. However, a review of 14 studies found Echinacea was more effective at reducing the risk for developing a cold, when people took Echinacea preventively and consistently, meaning before they even showed signs of a cold.2
The largest randomized clinical trial to date with over 700 participants, received either Echinacea extract or a placebo over 4 months. The intervention was proven to be safe and demonstrated 26% fewer cold events (defined by the combination of being diagnosed with a cold and number of days spent with cold symptoms).3
Authors all confirm that more research is needed, and that no evidence exists to date showing Echinacea could prevent or cure COVID-19.
Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant Properties
Experimental studies have found a variety of active compounds in the Echinacea plant that have beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.7 For example, cichoric acid is found to be effective at neutralizing free radicals that damage our cells. Echinacea also boasts compounds called alkamides that can rejuvenate worn out antioxidants to refresh their potency.8
Mood and Stress
A few small studies have shown that Echinacea may help reduce mild anxiety, though more research is needed.4,5
Very preliminary, test tube or in vitro, research shows biochemical potential for extracts of the Echinacea plant in helping to combat chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes and hypertension, via its antioxidant and ACE-inhibitory activity.6 Again, more research is needed to substantiate this.
HOW TO ENJOY
Echinacea grows natively in North America and is commonly known as the purple coneflower, a group made up of nine related plant species, with three thought to possess medicinal properties. It’s usually consumed as a tea, extract or supplement. Doses typically ranging from 10 mg to 500 mg have been shown to be safe in most healthy persons.1
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