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Interestingly, there has been some evidence that Echinacea can help with the symptoms of a cold if it is taken as soon as the first symptoms appear. But that’s about where it stops.

This herbal remedy is known by many other names, including Purple Cone Flower, Black Susans, Black Sampson, Indian Head, Red Sunflower, Kansas Snakeroot, plus a variety of others.

What Is Echinacea?

Echinacea is a alternative treatment that was originally used by the Great Plains Indian tribes. Once the settlers arrived and saw how it was being used, it became a well-known treatment for colds and infections. In fact, it was listed in the US National Formulary from 1916 – 1950. By this time, antibiotics had been discovered and because there was no actual scientific proof that Echinacea provided any health benefits, its popularity took a downward turn.

In more recent times, it has become more popular once again, as people are looking for alternative treatments instead of pharmaceuticals. Echinacea can be prepared using the flowers, leaves and roots, and is available in a number of forms, such as tablets, capsules, tinctures, teas and lotions.

What Are The Claims?

The most famous claim is that Echinacea has the ability to prevent cold symptoms, and after the symptoms have already begun, it can resolve them. Many people believe that if you take Echinacea as soon as you suspect a cold is coming on, you can prevent it from getting any worse.

Echinacea is also believed to have "antibiotic" or infection fighting qualities, and it is often used to treat skin infections such as boils and abscesses, as well as common complaints such as eczema and psoriasis. It is said to treat yeast infections and urinary tract infections as well as more serious blood infections such as gum disease, malaria, typhoid, genital herpes and tonsillitis.

Fact Or Fiction?

Interestingly, there has been some evidence that Echinacea can help with the symptoms of a cold if it is taken as soon as the first symptoms appear. But that’s about where it stops. 

There is no evidence that it can prevent a cold or cure a cold. This could be due to the variety of preparations of Echinacea available and whether one is more effective than another. There have also been cases of Echinacea helping with vaginal yeast infections as well as lowering the recurrence rate of infection.

Apart from the apparent useful effects on colds and yeast infections, there has been no other proof that Echinacea is effective for the variety of claims that are used in marketing the preparations of Echinacea. Like many other herbal remedies, there are no regulations in the manufacturing standards of Echinacea. In fact, some preparations have been found to contain toxic materials such as metals and arsenic.

The Downsides Of Echinacea: Side Effects

As with any other medicine, herbal remedies such as Echinacea do carry the risk of side effects, as well as dangerous interactions with certain medicines. The most common side effect is that of an allergic reaction. This is particularly risky in those who have existing allergies to plants. Signs of an allergic reaction include:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Swelling of the face, mouth, tongue, throat and lips

An allergic reaction requires urgent medical attention and is classed as an emergency situation.

Less dangerous side effects of Echinacea that can occur include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Pain in joints or muscles
  • Dry mouth
  • Strange taste in the mouth
  • Numbness of the tongue
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Insomnia

Topical Echinacea lotions can also cause a skin rash in some cases.

Another risk of taking Echinacea is due to possible interactions with other medicines. Like any other drug, some herbal preparations have compounds that can interact and counteract with pharmaceutical medicines, which could lead to life threatening situations. If you have any of the following conditions that are being treated, you should avoid taking Echinacea:

  • Asthma or allergies
  • Infections
  • Depression and anxiety disorders
  • Cancer
  • Psychiatric illness
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Psoriasis
  • Seizures
  • Migraines

Also, you should avoid taking anything that contains caffeine whilst taking Echinacea. Caffeine drinks and foods can interact with the Echinacea causing the regular caffeine side effects to increase, including a jittery feeling, headache and fast heart rate.

To Take Or Not To Take?

As mentioned before, if you have any form of autoimmune disease you should not take Echinacea without discussing it with your health professional first. Also, if you are pregnant you should avoid Echinacea, as there is no evidence to date that it is safe for your unborn baby. There is also no scientific evidence that it is safe for babies or children to take Echinacea.

Many people today think that herbal is always going to be better and safer than other medicines. This is largely because of the misconception that if it comes from a plant it is safe. What they don’t realize is that plants contain many different types of compounds and chemicals that can be just as dangerous if not more so than a lot of regular medicines you get through your healthcare provider.

Whilst there has been some evidence that Echinacea could be useful in treating colds and yeast infections, it is still important to talk to your doctor first before embarking on a course of Echinacea treatment. It is also very important to make sure you get your Echinacea from a reputable manufacturer to ensure that you are not getting a product that is laced with dangerous chemicals and metals. Your healthcare provider will be able to recommend a safe supplier and instruct you on the best way for you to take the Echinacea.

Like any other alternative medicine, it does come down to personal choice. But it should also be an informed choice, so find out as much as possible about the product before you try it. After all, if it is just a cold you are worried about, is it worth the risk taking an herbal remedy that may work but may cause additional problems? Always talk to your doctor first; they know what your conditions are, what medications you are already on, possible allergies, and ultimately, what is going to be the best course of treatment for you individually.

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