Echinacea: Long term use

by Bone, Kerry

Medical Herbalism Journal 7(1&2):23

This is excerpted from a much longer letter in response to several articles appearing in Medical Herbalism suggesting that the use of Echinacea may deplete the immune system when used periods longer than several days.

This concept partly comes from the misinterpretation of the evidence from a clinical study [See Medical Herbalism 1994;6(1):1] and also the Echinacea monograph from the German Commission E. However, the Commission E monograph only draws conclusions from traditional use and clinical trials conducted in Europe. In particular, the scarce oral-dose clinical work for Echinacea in Europe has been mainly short-term, so Commission E have tailored their recommendations accordingly. However, there has been one clinical study involving longer use of Echinacea purpurea. This study found that immune reactivity after ten weeks of continuous oral doses of Echinacea was considerably greater than after two weeks of therapy, which in turn was significantly greater than before therapy (Coeugniet). These results imply that immune responsiveness progressively increases with continued use of Echinacea, which is consistent with my clinical experience.

A sample case illustrates this. On my recommendation, a 35 year-old friend started taking 5 ml per day of Echinacea angustifolia 1:2 extract for the treatment of warts. He has suffered from warts continuously since the age of 6. After three months, there was no progress. I suggested that he stop the treatment, but he replied that the echinacea made him feel well, so he would like to continue. After six months on the echinacea, every wart had vanished, and they have never returned. He still takes the Echinacea most days. Which also leads to another point. If a patient is prescribed echinacea 5 ml per day as a preventative, it is only human nature that a few days will be missed here and there. This would in any case provide the break from treatment which some herbalists claim is desirable.

The Eclectics were not averse to using echinacea long-term. For example, according to Ellingwood, Echinacea angustifolia was recommended for the following chronic conditions: mammary cancer, chronic mastitis, chronic ulceration, chronic glandular indurations, scrofulous nodules, syphilitic nodules and syphilis. With regard to syphilis, Ellingwood writes: “The longest time of all cases yet reported, need to perfect the cure, was nine months.” he cites a dramatic case history of a vaccination reaction where echinacea was successfully taken every two hours for six weeks.

Recent studies in Nature have shown just how robust the immune system is (Ho; Wei). They show that in AIDS, the system loses about 5% of its CD4+ lymphocytes daily, yet is able to replenish those cells and maintain a robust immune response for years before a gradual decline. Continuous use of a pharmacologically-mild plant is unlikely to deplete such a robust system.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner

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