Winter has officially arrived, and with it comes the usual slew of colds and the even more dreaded flu. Chances are the nasty colds are already here in full force, leaving sufferers with two main thoughts when it comes to their current condition: How can I shorten the duration of this cold, and what can I do going forward to thwart my next cold? For years, the most obvious solution to at least the second part of that conundrum was vitamin C, but on closer examination and contemplation, an even-better cold preventative might be echinacea.
Echinacea the new vitamin C? Maybe.
What Is Echinacea? A Reminder
Echinacea is an herb that is native to North America, a type of coneflower, per draxe.com. While relatively new to American health-conscious consumers, it has been used for health-related treatments for hundreds of years as a traditional herbal remedy used by the Great Plains Indian tribes. In fact, prior to 1950 and the debut of antibiotics, echinacea was a “go-to” medicine for many of the same needs now addressed by antibiotics. It’s chiefly known for its benefits in supporting your immune system, fighting infections, and overall health.
Although echinacea is classified as an herb, it is widely thought of as a flower. It has not only flowers that bloom, but leaves, stem, and root – all of which together are comprised of a multitude of phenolic compounds know for their health-inducing properties. These include cichoric acid, caftaric acid, echinacoside, and a variety of polysaccharides and alkylamides, per organicfacts.net.
There are actually nine species in the echinacea genus, per National Institutes of Health (NIH), all of which contain phenols. These are active substances that regulate the activity of enzymes and cell receptors, which in terms of the plant’s life helps guard it from infections and ultraviolet (UV) radiation damage.
The alkylamides as well as the polysaccharides do their part by bolstering the immune system. Following are many of echinacea’s potential health benefits, although a consultation with your physician is in order before beginning an echinacea regimen as some sort of DIY medical treatment:
- Boost Immune System. A good place to start, with so many people now leaning on echinacea to deal with colds – present and future. Connecticut-based scientists reviewing studies on echinacea’s effects when it comes to colds concluded that using echinacea can reduce your chances of catching a cold by 58 percent while reducing the length of a cold by 1.4 days, per medicalnewstoday.com.
- Anti-inflammatory. Per organicfacts.net, echinacea’s chemical components have been shown to reduce inflammation, such as the aches and pains often associated with your joints. Likewise, echinacea oil has been found to be effective in alleviating the inflammation of the skin when exposed to the sun for an excessive amount of time.
- Laxative. Echinacea is among the herbs known to be useful for treating conditions of the stomach and the entire gastrointestinal tract. That’s why it has shown usefulness in providing natural constipation relief as well as a calming effect as a mild laxative.
- Upper Respiratory Issues. Echinacea can assist in decreasing irritation and mucus deposits in the respiratory tracts, helping patients who are prone to suffer from conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, whooping cough, acute sinusitis, and strep throat. Per draxe.com, “Recent studies have shown that secretion of asthma-related cytokines in the bronchial epithelial cells can be reversed by echinacea preparations.”
- Reduce Infections. Echinacea can accelerate the healing of wounds, and thus thwarting infections. It does this by speeding up the formation of new skin cells and by eliminating bacteria from your body quicker than other medications, per organicfacts.net. Along with that, the herb can enhance the production of white blood cells, which are instrumental in our body’s battle against illness. Also, the compound echinacein inhibits bacteria and viruses from penetrating healthy cells, cutting down the risk of development of infection. Such infections can include genital herpes, malaria, urinary tract infections, gum diseases, vaginal yeast infections, etc.
- Oral Health. Perhaps echinacea can cut down on your visits to the dentist (other than twice a year for checkups and cleanings). Per organicfacts.net, studies have demonstrated a link between ingestion of the herb and a reduction in gingivitis (a bacterial infection). Consider echinacea supplementation a means to help keep your teeth strong and healthy.