Natural Antibiotic, Echinacea

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Echinacea
(natural antibiotic)
For a few years now, this popular immune booster (Echinaceapurpurea and related species) has been the top-selling herb in the country: Even consumers who'd never set foot in a health-food store are plucking it reg­ularly off their local pharmacy shelves. And for good reason—it's one of the best ways I know to stop the common cold in its tracks. I'd recommend tincture of echinacea to anyone at the first sign of a cold or flu—symptoms like a scratchy throat or body aches—and I often prescribe it as a first line of treatment for common infections such as sore throats or ear infections before resorting to conventional antibiotics.



HISTORY & RESEARCH
Familiar to gardeners as the ornamental purple coneflower, echinacea (also called snakeroot or hedgehog) hails from the Native American herbal tradition, where Plains Indians used it widely to treat snakebites, toothaches, and many other ailments. In the late 19th cen­tury, the herb was discovered by doctors in this
country and became one of their most trusted medicines. While it fell out of favor in the United States with the rise of modern antibiotics, echi­nacea has remained popular in Europe: In Germany today echinacea is officially approved as an over-the-counter drug for respiratory infections and other ailments.
In recent years, a body of research done mostly in Germany has shown that echinacea increases the number and activity of key white blood cells involved in immunity: It's known to boost the activity of T-cells (natural killer cells) as well as the production of interferon. One placebo-controlled 1992 study of 180 patients found that four dropperfuls of echinacea extract a day significantly relieved the severity and duration of flu symptoms, while another double-blind study indicated that patients with diminished immune response benefited significantly from preventative treatment with the herb.

This country's first controlled trial of echi­nacea, conducted at Bastyr University in Seattle, is now under way.


HOW TO USE IT
some areas.
• Liquid remedies should produce a curious and distinctive numbing sensation when held in the mouth for a few minutes. If a commercial preparation doesn't do this, it's not good.
To stave off a cold or the flu at the first sign of symptoms, I recom­mend taking a dropperful of tincture in water or tea four times a day and continue until symptoms are gone. Children 3 to 12 may be given half the adult amount. I'd also advise taking a full dose of echinacea while you're battling infections such as sinusitis, tonsillitis, or ear infections, as well as the day before and after major den­tal work to prevent bacterial infection.
The use of echinacea as a preventative tonic is a bit more controversial. I don't usually recommend it for this purpose, but if you do want to use it to build up your immunity, halve the adult dose and take as long as you feel you need to—although you should probably take a break from the herb on occa­sion to avoid developing tolerance. (Germany's Commission E—the nation­al agency that regulates botanical medicines—recommends taking echinacea for no longer than eight consecutive weeks.)
I myself use echinacea as a preventative when I'm planning a long plane flight where several hours of breathing stale air is likely to take a toll on my respiratory system: If you tend to get coughs or sore throats from flying, start taking a full dose of echinacea the day before your flight and continue for a day or two after.




CAUTIONS
Echinacea is nontoxic. Rarely it may cause mild side effects such as stomach upset and diarrhea. If so, try taking only half the dose. I don't recommend echinacea for people with immune-function disorders such as multiple sclerosis or collagen disease.
DR. ANDREW WEIL'S CONSUMER GUIDE TO HERBAL MEDICINES
17
Choose a tincture made primarily from the root of the plant.
Avoid combination echinacea/ goldenseal remedies, as there is no evidence that goldenseal has health benefits when taken internally, and it is now an endangered species.
Look for a product made from plants that are certified organically grown—wild echinacea is threatened in

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