VII.  How Does It Supposedly Work?

        Echinacea supposedly prevents and treats of a variety of ailments by acting as immune system booster.  Claims are made that Echinacea has anticancer, regeneration, antiviral, and antibacterial properties.  One of the active ingredients in Echinacea, inulin, is hypothesized to activate a portion of the immune system called the alternate complement pathway.  This results in an influx of white blood cells into areas of infections, thus destroying bacteria, viruses, and microorganisms.  In addition, consumption of Echinacea is claimed to further heighten the alternate complement pathway by increasing levels of properdin - the natural immune system stimulant of the body (

        Dr. James Downey’s Herbal Research & Healing Page says Echinacea promotes the number of white blood cells.  In addition, white blood cells are activated when Echinacea’s polysaccharides bind to receptors on the surface of the cells.  This increases the replication rate of T-cells (T-lymphocytes).  T-cells are responsible for “cell-mediated immunity” (  This term refers to the part of the immune system that does not rely on antibodies for protection.  This makes T-cell effective against “mold-like bacteria, yeast fungi, parasites, viruses, cancer, and auto-immune disorders.”  In addition to promoting T-cells, Echinacea is thought to increase the number of circulating neutrophils – another type of white blood cell.  Neutrophils are responsible for encompassing and destroying “bacteria, tumor cells, and dead particulate matter” (  Echinacea is an important herb that strengthens the macrophages – cells located in the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes that filter the lymph.  These essential “garbage collectors” consume bacteria and cellular debris, and eradicate tumor cells (

        The polysaccharide components of Echinacea are believed to give it its regenerative properties.  Studies show this is due to Echinacea’s ability to inhibit the enzyme hyaluronidase.  Many microorganisms discharge hyaluronidase because it breaks down the ground substance that holds cells together.  “Echinacea maintains the structure and integrity of connective tissue and ground substance,” as well as promotes the cells which produce the ground substance (

        Echinacea is thought to protect the body from viruses due to its inhibition of hyaluronidase.  As discussed earlier, hyaluronidase degenerates cells’ connective tissue, thus allowing viruses to easily penetrate cells.  If the connection tissue is not broken down, viruses have difficulty entering healthy cells.  Echinacea also increases the production of interferons.  Interferons are responsible for synthesizing proteins that prevent “transcription of viral RNA” (

        Echinacea is supposed to have mild antibacterial properties due to its possession of echinacoside – a caffeic acid derivative.  Studies show that 6.3 mg of echinacoside has the same effect as 10 Oxford unites of penicillin (



Psychology Department

The Health Psychology Home Page is produced and maintained by David Schlundt, PhD.

Vanderbilt Homepage | Introduction to Vanderbilt | Admissions | Colleges & Schools | Research Centers | News & Media Information | People at Vanderbilt | Libraries | Administrative Departments | Medical 

  Return to the Health Psychology Home Page
  Send E-mail comments or questions to Dr. Schlundt


Search: Vanderbilt University
the Internet

  Help  Advanced

Tip: You can refine your last query by searching only the results by clicking on the tab above the search box

Having Trouble Reading this Page?  Download Microsoft Internet Explorer.