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Fact or Fake?

a.                  What is the Purpose of the Treatment

            Echinacea is a flower used in medicinal treatment which dates back to the early Native American tribes.  Belonging to the daisy family, the Echinacea flower is commonly known as the “purple coneflower.”  This herb has been used as a treatment by doctors for the past 150 years.  The purpose of this herb is to kill bacteria and viruses, reduce allergies, and enhance immunity.  Also, the Bowen Island Botanicals group believes that Echinacea has anti-tumor properties to help in the battle against cancer. (  Through much research, the Bowen Island Botanicals group have concluded that its actions relate to the immune system functioning on some level, which include immune system stimulation and fighting infectious diseases (   However, the traditional uses for this remedy include treating skin and gum infections, rashes and headaches.

b.                  How Does this Herb Work?

            Total, there are nine different species of the Echinacea plant, however only three species are used medicinally.  These include the species E. purpurea, E. angustifolia, and E. pallida.  The parts of the flower that are used with angustifolia and pallida are the roots, while the entire plant of purpurea is used.  The way that the Echinacea remedy is created is a combination of the roots of angustifolia and pallida with the flowering tops of purpurea.  This combination provides the most effective use of the herb (  The chemicals that are believed to cause the immunostimulatory effects of the Echinacea have been attributed to echinacoside, polysaccharides, and alklamides, as well as echinosin, rutin, and chichoric acid (  Echinacoside has been proven in studies to exhibit the same antibacterial properties as penicillin.  All Echinacea possibly stimulates the surface immune system, which helps the body fight infections, colds and the flu.  Besides stimulating the action of the immune system, Echinacea possibly speeds the regeneration of new tissue in the faster healing of wounds (  However, the process that the biologically active principles within Echinacea is complicated throughout the body.  The process by which it could prevent infection and repair tissue damaged by infection is through inhibiting the activity of the enzyme hyaluronidase.  This enzyme causes the breakdown of the hyluronic acid, which is a barrier against pathogenic organism.  This causes the barrier to become leaky, allowing the pathogens to invade and kill the cell.  Echinacea inhibits the action of hyaluronidase by bonding with it in some way, causing a temporary increase in the integrity of the barrier (  This action is also involved in the healing of tissue destroyed from infection and the elimination of disease causing organisms from the infection.  This is one of many ways that the Echinacea herb is believed to assist your immune system response. 

c.                   What claims are made about the effectiveness of this treatment

            The claims from the sites cited above are that this herb is very affective with increasing the strength of your immune system response to pathogens.  They use scientific explanation to account for the effectiveness of the treatment.  The claims are that the herb can stimulate immune system response during the cold season and it also aids in treating skin and gum infections, rashes, and headaches.  However, these are simply claims.  They are not proven results of the Echinacea through experimentation.   

d.                  What evidence if any is offered in support of the claim

            The evidence that is presented from the websites is a detailed report by a biological science researcher.  He states all of the action particles in the Echinacea and how they are linked to the immune system.  However none of the sites cite specific test experiments on patients or laboratory experiments.  However the fact that the herb has been used medicinally for the past 150 years proves that it is very effective, however, just this fact alone does not stand for a basis that the herb actually inhibits immune system response.

e.           Who is presenting this information, and why are they presenting it

The people who are presenting the information on the drug are all of the manufacturers and college research groups.  The main reason for the manufacturers presenting is to convince the public that their product is actually successful.  If their information page is successful, than they receive more money.  They present many claims and examples of how a proper use of the herb could be beneficial.  This is all to help bring a profit to their company.  The purpose of other groups writing about the herb is to inform the public of the wonders of Echinacea.  In their minds, it is imperative for the public to see the benefits of this herb for the immune system, which in turn would create a healthier society. 


f.                Scientific Research I: the effect on the immune system of mice

            There has been quite a few experiments to test the effects of Echinacea on the immune system.  One of the primary ways that scientists conducted their research was through the experimentation of rats and mice.  Since the Echinacea distributors believe that their herb benefits the immune system, many of the researches have linked the Echinacea herb to the macrophages, which are important to the body’s defense against bacterial infections and tumors.  A group of scientists wanted to test the effect of Echinacea purpurea, a species of the Echinacea herb, on the Macrophage activation (Luettig, Steinmuller, Gifford and Lohmann-Matthes 1989).  In their study, they used “acididc arabinogalactan, a highly purified polysaccharide derived from cell cultures of isolatd E. purpurea cells” (Luettig 669).  In their experiment, they injected this polysaccharide in doses ranging from 4mg to 4 g/kg to a total of 12 mice.  Using this experiment, they determined that the substance interacts mainly with the macrophage cells, stimulating them in vitro and in vivo.  However, the B lymphocytes and the T lymphocytes were barely even affected.  The type of mice that were used in this experiment were male and female 6-8 week old mice. 



Specific Cr-51 release (response of macrophages)

Medim+10% FCS




  When the Echinacea polysaccharides were tested in to help the macrophages against a specific sensitive tumor cell, WEHI 164, the macrophages were activated with arabinogalactan to kill the WEHI 164 cells.  These Echinacea activated macrophages showed cytotoxicity 25% higher than that of the medium controls (Luettig 1989).  Also, the arabinogalactan activated macrophages to increased phagocytosis killing of L. enriettii parasites.  The release of the chemical involved in the phagocytosis was 40% with the arabinogalactan activated macrophages than the control medium macrophages.  Overall, this experiment determined that macrophages were strongly stimulated by the polysaccharide of E. purpurea.  All of the functions, and most importantly, the cytotoxicity against micro-organisms was amplified by the arabinogalactan (Luettig 1989).  The research from this experiment proves that the Echinacea herb does have an effect on the immune system including the anti-tumor response.   

  1.          Scientific Research II: anti-inflammatory uses

            At the Institute of Pharmacology and Pharmacognosy, in the University of Trieste, a group of scientists tested the anti-inflammatory strength of the Echinacea angustifolia herb.  They tested the activity of the polysaccharidic fraction (EPF) from the E. angustifolia on the carrageenan paw oedema and the croton oil ear test in mice.  Based on their results from the experiment, they found that the EPF almost inhibited the carrageenan-induced oedema after 8 hours.  Overall, the anti-inflammatory activity of E. angustifolia seems to be in its polysaccharidic content.  The way that they prepared the mice for the experiment was to inject them with the EPF intravenously one hour before

the carrageenan injections at two doses: 0.5 or 0.1 mg/kg.  The control animals received only a saline i.v. (Tubarot 1987). 



            The EPF had a “potent inhibitory effect on the carrageenan paw oedema” (Tubarot 568).  The EPF reduced the oedema over the eight hour period while the higher dose almost completely inhibited the anti-inflammatory response.  The drawing on the left shows the inhibitory effect of the EPF on the carrageenan oedema in rats.  The top line (O’s) is the control, the middle line (triangles) is the .1 dosage and the bottom line (squares) is the .5 dosage.  Overall, the 0.1 mg  EPF caused about a 65% inhibition of the inflammation.    As the data indicates, the EPF of E. angustifolia has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory activity both intravenously and topically.  The main principle that has been found to have an effect on the inflammation was the polysaccharides found in the E. angustifolia.  Overall, the Echinacea herb has been found to help in the anti-inflammation activity of immune systems.


  1.       Scientific Research III: the affect of Echinacea on Humans

            Although all of the other researchers tested the effects of the Echinacea herb on the immune system response to pathogens w/in the macrophages and the anti-inflammatory responses, they only tested them on mice, not on actual humans.  In the summer of 1995, a group of scientists conducted “five placebo-controlled randomized studies investigating the immunomodulatory activity of preparations containing extracts of Echinacea in healthy volunteers” (Melchart 1).  They found 134 (18 female and 116 male) volunteers between the ages of 18 and 40.  Two of the studies tested the intravenous preparations containing Echinacea angustifolia.  Another two studies tested oral alcoholic extracts of the roots of E. purpurea and E. pallida.  The last study was of an extract of the E. purpurea herb.  The measurements that the scientists were taking were of the phagocytic activity “plymorphonuclear neutrophil granulocytes (PNG)” which were measured by microscopic and cytometric measures.  The secondary outcome of this study was to “measure the number of leukocytes in peripheral venous blood” (Melchart 1).  In experiments one and two, the phagocytic activity of PNG increased 22.7% and 54.0% respectively.  However, in the other three studies, there were no significant effects observed.  This research proves that the Echinacea do in fact cause an increase in the immune system response.  However, only certain preparations of the Echinacea herb seemed to be beneficial.




Through all of the studies on mice and humans, one could believe that the Echinacea did in fact have a positive effect on the immune system.  However, the only problem is, there are only certain preparations that could make the Echinacea herb beneficial for the phagocytic response.  The Echinacea showed to have active anti-inflammatory parts within it which also proves that the companies did not lie with their claims.  Overall, the Echinacea herb does help in the fight against pathogens with the immune system.







Works Cited Page



Luettig, B., and C. Steinmuller, G. E. Gifford, H. Wagner, and M.L. Lohman-Matthes. “Marcrophage Activation by the Polysaccharide Araginogalactan Isolated from Plant Cell Cultures of Echinacea Pururea.”

J Natl Cancer Inst. pgs. 669-675. Copyright: 1989.


Stimpel, M. and A. Proksch, H. Wagner, and M.L. Lohmann-Matthes.

“Macrophage Activation and Induction of Macrophage Cytotoxicity by Purified Polysaccharide Fraction from the Plant Echinacea Purpurea.”

Infection and Immunity, Dec. 1984, p. 845-849. Copyright: 1984.


Tubarot, A. and E. Tragni, P. Del Negro, C.L. Galli, R. Della Loggia.

“Anti-inflammatory activity of a polysaccharidic fraction of Echinacea angustifolia.” J. Pharm. Pharmacol. 1987, pg 567-569.  Copyright: 1986


Melchart, D. and K. Linde, F. Worku, L. Sarkady, M. Holzmann, K. Jurcic, and H. Wagner.  “Results of five randomized studies on the immunomodulatory activity of preparations of Echinacea.” J Altern Complement Med. 1995 Summer pg. 145-160. copyright: 1995




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