Echinacea is an herb that has long been believed to improve immunity and the authors confirmed this by multiple studies on mice. The authors believe that the results will apply to humans because of our 97% genetic similarity to mice. Daily use of Echinacea extended the life of aged mice, reduced leukemia in mice and produced greater longevity in leukemic mice.
The author’s research has shown that echinacea increases natural killer (NK) cell counts in the bone marrow and in the spleens of mice. Echinacea contains chemicals that stimulate the production of NK cells in the bone marrow and chemicals (alkylamides), which inhibit chemicals that suppress NK cell production (prostaglandins). NK cells are important naturally in the prevention of cancer because they seek out and destroy cancer cells. Arabinogalactans, a complex carbohydrates found in echinacea, stimulates macrophages to release NK stimulants.
T and B lymphocytes, parts of our “adaptive immunity”, are not stimulated by echinacea. Adaptive immunity results from a previous exposure to more specific toxins. Echinacea stimulates the “non-adaptive immunity” of NK cells and monocytes that are less specific in their targets than are the T and B lymphocytes.
People who are allergic to a family of plants called Asteraceae should not take echinacea.
Full stimulation of NK cells took about two weeks to initiate with echinacea. The ability of echinacea to stimulate NK cell activity in aging mice shows that it was able to restore a function that normally declines as a part of the process of aging, which helps in preventing the development of cancer. The authors have shown previously that aging results in declining numbers of functional NK cells. Echinacea results in 30% more NK cells than are seen in control animals without echinacea.
Arabinogalactans were not able to stimulate NK cell counts in aging mice when given alone, therefore, the authors recommend the use of whole Echinacea at doses given on the bottles.
The usual advice about echinacea has been that it should be used for only two weeks and then stopped for a period of time. The authors state that this has not been justified by their careful research. In fact, their studies show that continuous use is best and not detrimental.
A combination of echinacea and melatonin was more effective in treating leukemic mice than either melatonin or echinacea alone.
CONCLUSION: The authors demonstrated Echinacea to be effective in increasing NK cells in mice that already had cancer and in preventing the development of cancer before it started.
NOTE: Read about the effect of echinacea on natural killer cells in mice.
To read the author’s abstract of the article click on the link to the author’s title of the article above.