The authors used Echinacea purpurea (E. purpurea) to treat mice daily from youth to old age to see if it would change survival (longevity) or blood cell counts. Survival depends on high levels of immune cells. Mice were treated with E. purpurea, daily, from 7 weeks to middle-age, with untreated mice used as controls for comparison.
Of the mice treated with echinacea, 100% were alive at 10 months. Only 79% of the untreated controls were alive at 10 months. At 13 months, 74% of the treated mice were alive and only 46% of the untreated mice were alive.
Natural killer (NK) cells are the main defense in mice and humans against cancer. NK cell counts are often low, sometimes profoundly, in aging mice at a time when the risk of cancer is high. In this study, NK cells were significantly increased in the bone marrow and the spleen with echinacea treatment. NK cells were the only cells increased in the echinacea treated mice. White blood cells, including granulocytes, lymphocytes and monocytes, remained normal in treated and untreated mice.
The alkylamides of echinacea inhibit the enzymes cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase, thereby reducing the production of prostaglandins, which inhibit NK cell production. Therefore, echinacea prevents the inhibition of NK cell production.
The arabinogalactans found in echinacea, when taken up by monocyte white cells, stimulate the production of NK cells.
CONCLUSION: Echinacea made a “profound” change in the treated mice. Echinacea is seen as being beneficial in improving survival and by increasing natural killer (NK) cells, which helps prevent cancer. This is increasingly important with aging.
NOTE: Echinacea includes E. angustifolia, E. purpurea and E. pallida.
E. pallida contains large amounts of arabinogalactans. Read more about E. pallida
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