Jon Barron on Echinacea

In this week’s excerpt from Lessons from the Miracle Doctors, Jon Barron begins his discussion of immune boosters by looking at Echinacea.

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“Not only are natural immune boosters safer than the drug-based approach (having fewer side effects), they are also far more powerful than their pharmaceutical counterparts. Let’s take a look at some of the more powerful immune boosters available.

Echinacea (purple coneflower) is truly a miracle herb. It was ‘discovered’ in the late 1800s by a traveling salesman named Joseph Meyer, who learned about it from the Plains Indians while traveling out West. He brewed it up as an alcohol tincture and sold it as a cure-all—demonstrating its effectiveness by letting rattlesnakes bite him and then drinking his tonic. Needless to say, he never got sick, from whence comes the phrase ‘snake oil.’

How does Echinacea work? First, it contains echinacoside, a natural antibiotic comparable to penicillin in effect, which can kill a broad range of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. This makes it invaluable in wound healing and in the treatment of infectious diseases. Research has also reported Echinacea’s efficacy in treating colds, flu, bronchitis, and tuberculosis. Echinacea also contains echinacein, a biochemical that protects against germ attack by neutralizing the tissue-dissolving enzyme hyaluronidase, produced by many germs. Among the many pharmacological properties reported for Echinacea, macrophage activation has been demonstrated most convincingly. One study showed that Echinacea extracts can boost T-cell production by up to 30 percent more than immune-boosting drugs.

There are two primary varieties of Echinacea: Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia. They are similar, but also have complementary properties. Formulas that use both are more likely to be effective. It’s also worth noting that potency runs from seed (greatest potency) to root to leaf to almost none in the flower. And, of course, herb quality is paramount.

Over the last few years, there have been several studies that claimed to debunk Echinacea’s ability to boost the immune system and fight colds. Suffice it to say that the studies were either flawed in design (reviews of previously flawed studies), used the wrong parts of the Echinacea plant (flowers and leaves rather than roots and seeds), or used it at the wrong strength. Forget the studies—Echinacea still stands as one of the best immune boosters available.”

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