Fight Off Colds With Echinacea

Jan 4, 2001

Well we're right in the middle of winter, and you know what that means--cold and flu season will soon strike (if it hasn't already). This is the time of year when viruses run amok, but there may be something you can do to help your body fight off sickness this winter. It might be time to give echinacea a try.

Native Americans have known all about echinacea and its healing properties for decades. Now Western physicians are finally starting to give this wonderful herb a look. Until recently, doctors did not take echinacea and its advocates seriously, but a few studies have yielded promising results, which tend to back up the claims made by supporters of the herb.

The interesting thing about echinacea is how it works. It is not like standard cold medicine, which just relieves the symptoms of a cold; nor is it like an antibiotic, which directly fights infection. Instead, echinacea works not by fighting viruses itself, but rather by stimulating and strengthening the body’s own immune system. In a sense, it “pumps up” the body’s immune system so it will perform at its peak.

There are several known species of echinacea, but the safest and most common is called E. purpurea. (It is also the easiest to cultivate, and there should be no trouble finding it on the market.) The leaves, flowers, and roots of this plant are all used to make a variety of preparations. Whatever form you decide to take, the key lies in when you take it. Echinacea is only effective when taken at the very first signs of a cold (no more than 24 hours after the first symptom). If you miss this 24-hour “window”, then echinacea will not nearly be as effective, if at all.

Another important thing to keep in mind is NOT to take echinacea continuously on a daily basis. Its potency is greatly diminished when it is taken over the long-term, and it may even suppress the immune system if used over a long period of time. Most experts agree that it should be taken no longer than 10 to 14 days consecutively, with a “rest” period of at least a week. Better yet, they recommend that echinacea ONLY BE USED WHEN NEEDED, not as a preventative measure. (So use it only when you get that first sign of a cold, not when you are feeling healthy!) Also, be sure to check with your physician if you have any disorders related to the immune system.

Other than these precautions, echinacea is generally a safe herb, and it is becoming more and more popular around the world. Who knows, maybe it will become your constant companion during the winter months!

(And as always, CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN before taking this or any other supplement)


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