Natural health: Echinacea for colds and the flu

My mother swears by echinacea to ward off colds and ‘flu. In fact, her health is excellent and she is rarely ill. However, I have read information to suggest it is not safe to be taken over long periods of time. Should I be concerned?

Echinacea is a common go-to herb for the prevention of the common cold and ‘flu— and there is a large body of study suggesting this is for good reason. Even after much research on the action of echinacea during varying stages of the immune cycle, scientists are only scratching the surface in uncovering the potential benefits of this herbal remedy.

There is research into the safety of long-term use of Echinacea, in particular as to whether or not it actually overstimulates the immune system. Clinical studies performed in the past decade show no such findings, however there was an isolated case study published in 2002 suggesting that long-term use may be linked to the development of autoimmune issues.

A 2006 study investigated the use of Echinacea angustifolia in patients with autoimmune uveitis, and found that individuals who received the placebo instead of echinacea needed a longer treatment period with steroids than those who were taking echinacea. Not only was echinacea shown to be safe for individuals with an autoimmune disorder, but it was actually useful in treating the symptoms.

Each part of the echinacea plant has unique phyto-chemistries that can benefit the immune system in many ways. The root, naturally rich in alkylamides, is anti-inflammatory and is likely beneficial in the acute stages of a cold or flu.

It may also be more effective when used in conjunction with other immune-supportive herbs such as black elderberry, ginger root, and andrographis. echinacea root must be taken in high dose and frequency to be effective as soon as symptoms begin to appear.

The aerial portion of echinacea is best taken to stimulate and strengthen the immune system throughout the cold and ‘flu season. Echinacea in this form is thought to enhance the immune system and should be taken in a lower dose long term. Echinacea aerial parts are also best taken with other immune-stimulating herbs rich in immune polysaccharides such as astragalus root, medicinal mushroom extracts, black elderberries, and ginger root.

Inconsistent research results are largely due to the use of low-quality echinacea formulations. A good echinacea formulation should be made from fresh, not dried, herb — preferably harvested and processed in the morning when active substances are at peak levels. It is best extracted in alcohol and water.

Both echinacea purpurea and echinacea angustifolia are used clinically; although research shows that Echinacea purpurea has the highest level of immuno-modulating activity, which means that this is the best choice for people concerned about over-stimulating the immune system.

Q. I have heard that lemon juice and olive oil can be used as a remedy to treat gallstones. Is this true?

There are a number of variations on this recipe, the most common being as follows: Combine half a teaspoon (2.5ml) of lemon juice with quarter of a cup (60ml) of olive oil.

Take this combination five times daily — preferably on an empty stomach — until the stones have passed. Typically this treatment works within two days.

This remedy has a long history of dedicated followers, however, any evidence of its effectiveness is largely anecdotal. It should also be noted that it can cause nausea or vomiting in some individuals.

Reducing dietary cholesterol has been shown to significantly minimise symptoms, which makes sense, given that cholesterol is the primary constituent of most gallstones.


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