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Echinacea, otherwise known as the purple coneflower, is a plant native to both America and Europe. The Native American Plains Indians were among the first to use the herb to invigorate the immune system and ward off the common cold, flu and various infections. Now, the plant is often made into an extract and sold in pill form as a nutritional supplement. Though heavy research tends to show the ineffectiveness of echinacea extract once a virus has already spread, many believe the supplement provides numerous health benefits when it is taken as directed by a physician.
In the early 1900s, echinacea extract was one of the most popular tinctures in America and Europe and was advertised as a home remedy. The American Medical Association (AMA) attacked the supposed cure-all beginning in 1910 in favor of promoting the rise of pharmaceutical companies. The negative press, however, did not do much to suppress the widespread use of echinacea. Today, echinacea extract remains one of the highest-selling herbal supplements.
Echinacea extract is said to rejuvenate the immune system by promoting immune cell production and stimulating phagocytosis, the consumption of foreign organisms by the blood cells. Some studies have found that the herb can also counteract the effects of bacterial enzymes when applied at the site of an open wound. When ingested, an echinacea supplement may kill yeast, stop bacterial growth, and increase new cell cultivation, which helps fight off internal infections. Echinacea extract has been found to reduce inflammation for arthritis sufferers at roughly the same rate as steroids without the harsh side-effects some patients suffer when taking prescription medicines; only those with a somewhat rare allergy to the plant have experienced negative reactions.
Numerous research studies have been conducted to discern the effectiveness of echinacea extract as a cure for the common cold. Most conclusions have stated that patients treating sickness with echinacea did not recover faster than patients not using the herb. Believers in the supplement suggest, however, that echinacea is most effective when taken as soon as the symptoms of a cold begin. Taking the extract once a cold has already become serious may have little to no impact.
Recommended dosage of echinacea extract follows a somewhat irregular pattern due to a belief that stimulation of the immune system only lasts a relatively short period of time before it returns to its normal state. By changing the intake of the extract on a rotating basis, one may continue to stimulate the immune system without building up a tolerance to the herb. Some physicians say that a repeating pattern of three days on the supplement and three days off is most beneficial. Still others follow a plan of six to eight weeks on the extract and two weeks off.