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Echinacea and the Immune System

In part six of this series about the immune system, we are going to discuss the herb echinacea and the benefits it has on the immune system. In future weeks we will further explore other herbs and spices that can help with boosting the immune system.

Common Names: echinacea, purple coneflower, coneflower, American coneflower (1)

Latin Name: Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida (1)

History: Research has shown that there are nine species of echinacea and they are all native to North America. History has shown us, that the use of the herb dates back to being used by the Native Americans of the Great Plains region and was used as a traditional medicine (1).

Today, echinacea is commonly used as a supplement to help fight the common cold and other infections. Its use comes from the fact that the herb may stimulate the immune system to help the body more effectively fight infections (1).

Immune Benefits

  • Helps with treating the common cold (2)

  • Immunostimulating (2)

  • Aids in treating viral infections (2)

  • May be beneficial with infections including urinary tract, ear and throat infections

  • Can be beneficial topically with wound healing (2)

Adverse Reactions

  • Common: Headache, dizziness, nausea, constipation, gastrointestinal upset, rash (2)

  • Rare: Dermatitis, anaphylaxis (2)


  • Use caution with echinacea if you are undergoing chemotherapy. Echinacea may reduce the efficacy of some anticancer medications (2)

  • Use caution if you have allergies or asthma because allergic reactions have been reported with the use of echinacea (2)

  • Avoid echinacea if you are undergoing eyelid surgery because of added increased risk of dry eye syndrome (2)

Herb and Drug Interactions

  • Cytochrome P450 substrates: Echinacea inhibits CYP3A4 and CYP2C8 and can impact the intracellular concentration of drugs metabolized by this enzyme

  • Cytochrome P3A or CYP1A2 substrate drugs: Use caution when echinacea is taken with drugs dependent on CYP3A or CYP1A2 for their elimination (2)

  • Tamoxifen: Use of echinacea can result in subtherapeutic systemic exposure of prodrugs and leads to a reduction in their efficacy (2)

  • Docetaxel: Use caution, however use of echinacea at the recommended doses did not alter docetaxel pharmacokinetics in people with cancer (2)

  • Etoposide: Echinacea can inhibit CYP3A4 and can lead to thrombocytopenia in patients receiving etoposide (2)

  • P-glycoprotein (P-gp) substrate drugs: Echinacea has been shown to inhibit P-gp activity (2)

  • Oseltamivir: Use caution as echinacea may reduce the formation of the active drug and may reduce efficacy (2)

  • Immunosuppressants: Echinacea may antagonize the effects of immunosuppressants (2)

  • Caffeine: Echinacea may slow down how quickly the body breaks down caffeine (3)

If you have an acute or chronic health condition or take medications, you should consult with your health care provider before taking any new herbs.

Interested in taking echinacea? HERE one of Kim's recommendations.

About the Author: Leanne DiMaio earned her Master’s degree in Applied Clinical Nutrition from New York Chiropractic College in December 2017. She is currently working on her Doctorate degree in Clinical Nutrition at Maryland University of Integrative Health. Leanne is passionate about helping others achieve their optimal state of health and wellness. She is currently earning clinical hours toward the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential under Kim Ross's supervision.


1. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Echinacea. NCCIH. Published 2016. Accessed September 16, 2018.

2. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Ecinacea. Published 2018. Accessed September 16, 20183. Web MD. Echinacea: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning. Published 2018. Accessed September 16, 2018.

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