Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Echinacea, Flu Season, and Autoimmune Disease


Can you hear that?

*cough* *hack* *sniffle*

Yep. It's cold season. The time when folks roll up their sleeves for their flu shots, start thinking seriously about hand sanitizers, stuff kleenexes in their pockets, and at the first sniffle, rifle around their medicine chest for cold remedies. Many grab the nearest bottle of echinacea, an herb commonly thought to reduce symptoms and severity of colds and flu, is also commonly thought to be harmless.

Not so.

Although some studies indicate that echinacea may possibly be a useful tool to boost the immune system, it is clearly not without contraindications. This information from the University of Maryland Medical Center explains:

The use of herbs is a time honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. However, herbs contain active substances that may trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, people should take herbs under the supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
People with tuberculosis, leukemia, diabetes, connective tissue disorders, multiple sclerosis, HIV or AIDS, any autoimmune diseases, or, possibly, liver disorders should not take echinacea. There is some concern that echinacea may reduce the effectiveness of medications that suppress the immune system. For this reason, people receiving organ transplants who must take immunosuppressant medications should avoid this herb. (See "Possible Interactions.")
In rare cases, echinacea may cause allergic reactions ranging from a mild rash to anaphylaxis (a life threatening reaction accompanied by throat tightening, shortness of breath, and, possibly, fainting). People with asthma and allergies may be at an increased risk for developing these adverse reactions. People with allergies to plants in the daisy family (compositae) should not take echinacea unless they do so under the supervision of a health care provider.
There has been one report of an individual developing erythema nodosum (a painful skin condition) after taking echinacea to treat the flu.
When taken by mouth, echinacea may cause temporary numbing and tingling on the tongue.
Despite concerns that echinacea may be unsafe for pregnant or breastfeeding women, evidence suggests that the use of echinacea during pregnancy does not increase the risk of birth defects or other pregnancy related health problems.

It appears that there may be no reason for Sjoggies or others with autoimmune disease to even consider echinacea use since a recent study casts doubt on the efficacy of the herb. 

A new study just released, authored by Bruce Barrett, MD, PhD, from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and colleagues, and conducted by the University of Wisconsin suggests that: 
"Illness duration and severity were not statistically significant with echinacea compared with placebo," the study authors write. "These results do not support the ability of this dose of the echinacea formulation to substantively change the course of the common cold."
You can read more about the use of herbs in autoimmune disease here, and about herbal use from the University of Illinois, here


Jupiter Family said...
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Anonymous said...

Echinacea is in the ragweed family, so definately do not take it if you are allergic to ragweed.

Anonymous said...

Very informative, thank you, I'm stuck with a sinusite right now, and ready to take anything to have it away !! I'll be carefull.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder. I used to take Echinacea, but had stopped taken it when I read that people with RA should not take it, but I couldn't recall why. I appreciate your post. I wash my hands regularly, stay away from people with colds, coughs and just try really hard to avoid germs. I have to say I've been reasonably successful.