What are Echinacea Supplements?

Nick Doniger
Nick Doniger
Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Echinacea supplements are one of many possible holistic cures for various ailments. The supplements produced from the flowering echinacea herb, generally in swallowable pill form, have been claimed to aid in the treatment and prevention of infections, such as the common cold, some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and strep throat. They additionally may have beneficial properties in relieving indigestion and heartburn symptoms, fighting cancer, and preventing migraines. These claims, however, have not been scientifically proven.

Several different species of the echinacea plant exist. The most commonly used form in the production of supplements is called Echinacea purpurea, though different supplements may be manufactured from the other species, or a combination of two or more species of the herb. Echinacea supplements are not strictly made from the aerial part of the plant. Some supplements contain parts from the roots as well. In addition to pills, commercial teas containing echinacea also exist, though with considerably smaller doses of the herb.

The main theory supporting the use of echinacea supplements is that they may aid in stimulating the human immune system. Some studies, however, have negated this theory, claiming that people of generally good health would derive no such benefit. It is also possible that these supplements are successful in fighting infections due to anti-inflammatory effects.

There are, of course, potentially negative side effects to taking echinacea supplements. While they are meant to relieve heartburn and indigestion, it is possible that they may agitate such symptoms. Additionally, it is possible that echinacea may cause other gastro-intestinal related ailments, such as abdominal upset, diarrhea, and vomiting. Echinacea supplements may also cause allergic reactions in some people. Experts recommend that one consults his or her physician and health care provider before seriously considering an echinacea regimen in order to avoid any possible unpleasant effects.

As with most holistic and herbal medicines and treatments, the benefits of echinacea supplements are not conclusive. More scientific studies are needed to prove the usefulness of this herbal remedy. Echinacea has not been tested by any government agencies.

Not all supplements are the same. As different brands of pills contain varying levels of the herbal compound and other additives, dosing varies among different pills. A pharmacist may assist in helping an interested consumer to choose the correct type of echinacea pill, as it is important to find one from a reliable manufacturer. While the supplements are most likely safe for use by children, supplements are not meant to be taken long-term by anyone.

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