Echinacea is a plant that is commonly used as an herbal supplement. It is often used to prevent or treat the common cold or the flu, and may also be beneficial for yeast infections. It is believed that echinacea may stimulate the immune system, have anti-inflammatory effects, and have antifungal activity. Potential side effects of the supplement include nausea, diarrhea, and heartburn.
What Is Echinacea?
Echinacea is a flowering plant that is used medicinally as an herbal supplement. There are actually several different species, all of which are native to North America (see Echinacea Species). Most often, people use the herb for preventing or treating the common cold or the flu, although people use it for other uses as well.
As a plant, echinacea contains many different compounds. The different species may vary slightly in the composition of such compounds. At this time, it is not clear which compounds (or combination of compounds) might be responsible for the medicinal actions of the herb.
Some studies suggest that the supplement might work by stimulating the immune system (in several different ways), although one study demonstrated that it did not stimulate the immune systems of healthy individuals. It is also thought that echinacea might work for the common cold or the flu due to its anti-inflammatory effects.
A few different compounds in echinacea might have antifungal activity, which may be why the herb may help with yeast infections.
Is It Effective?
There is some evidence that echinacea may be effective for treating the common cold and for preventing the recurrence of chronic vaginal yeast infections. It is not clear if the herb is effective for other uses.
Written by/reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: KristiMonson, PharmD;
List of references (click here):
Jellin JM, editor. Pharmacist's Letter/Prescriber's Letter Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Available at: http://naturaldatabase.com/. Accessed August 20, 2008.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Echinacea: Effects on liver disease and cirrhosis and clinical adverse effects. Summary, evidence report/technology assessment: Number 21 (September 2000). AHRQ Web site. Available at: http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/epcsums/milktsum.htm. Accessed August 11, 2008.
National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. National Institutes of Health. Herbs at a glance: Echinacea (March 2008). NCCAM Web site. Available at: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/echinacea/. Accessed August 20, 2008.
Briggs GG, Freeman RK, Yaffe SJ. Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation. 7th ed. Philadelphia (PA): Lippincott Williams & Wilkins;2005.
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