Echinacea – is your product any good?

If you go to a health food store and look for a cold/flu formula or tea, the most prevalent herb in the combinations will likely be Echinacea.  It is so common in these formulas for good reason – it is a powerful immune modulator (helps cells react faster and more appropriately) and increases white blood cell counts, particularly natural killer cells (the ones we need if we catch the virus that’s going around). Sounds good, doesn’t it?  The problem is that according to human and animal studies, the main constituents responsible for this effect, the alkylamides, may not be present in products on the shelf.  Alkylamides are the only part of Echinacea that make it to the bloodstream, and interact directly with the receptors in the spleen and other immune tissues.  This is one reason why there are so many varied studies showing differing outcomes – there is no standardization for how Echinacea is extracted. 

So what do you need to look for? 

  • The alkylamides are most concentrated in the root of the plant.  Leaves and flowers are not as good.
  • A few species have higher amounts of alkylamides - E. angustifolia and E. purpurea.
  • If available, pick one that is standardized to alkylamides (polysaccharides and caffeic acids are no good). 
  • The echincea should be extracted with a high-alcohol solution – this is very important to get the alkylamides (water and glycerin won’t do it).
  • The final test can be done with your tongue – alkylamides are the same compounds that make your tongue tingly and numb.  How tingly?  Ask me for a sample next time you come by the clinic

The best part is that it can be used as both prevention – building up a strong immune response to ward off a full-blow infection, and as treatment when the cold is caught very early. Use the right extract, and you will see the benefits over the cold and flu season.