In one of my newsletters, I addressed the question:
“It is my understanding that Echinacea strengthens the immune system. Is this a good idea for an already overactive immune system of a person (me) who has RA?”
Photo by FromSandToGlass
My answer was:
“A strong immune system is one that is in balance. In the case of RA, one part is overactive (a certain subset of helper T-cells) and another part is under active (a certain subset of suppressor T-cells). This imbalance leads to runaway inflammation.
With Echinacea, or any herb or supplement that affects the immune system, the question is whether this overall balance is improved. Because herbs generally have a holistic effect, this is a likely outcome. However, in keeping with my general approach, the best way to answer a question like this is to learn what you can about the specific effect of an herb or supplement, and then pay close attention to the specific effects of this substance on your own body.”
This update was prompted by reader responses. One reader let me know that for her, taking Echinacea was correlated to a worsening of specific arthritis symptoms. Another reader wrote expressing her strong opinion that Echinacea is dangerous for RA patients.
In response, I have done more research on what is known about Echinacea and how it affects autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.
What is most striking is how little research has been done on the issue. The University of Maryland Medical Center cautions that folks with autoimmune conditions should not use Echinacea, but they provide no references or other information explaining this caution. A search of Medline reveals no papers specifically focused on the effect of Echinacea on autoimmune types of arthritis.
The only research paper I could find on Medline that addresses the larger issue of Echinacea and autoimmune disorders in humans was published in June of 2004 in a dermatology journal. This article describes two patients with an autoimmune skin disorder (pemphigus vulgaris) who had a flare up in their condition that correlated to taking both Echinacea and Spirulina, at the same time. A third patient had both the onset and a flare up associated with taking Spirulina and another product. The Spirulina is the common agent implicated.
It isn’t clear whether the Echinacea had any role at all in the onset or worsening of these skin conditions.
Another paper published in September 2005 in the journal “Autoimmunity” looked at the effects of Echinacea on type I diabetes (an autoimmune disorder). This study was done in mice and indicated that Echinacea brought about a favorable immune response and may actually be an effective treatment for type I diabetes. Whether this effect will also be present in humans is an open question.
Because Echinacea extracts have known effects on the immune system, there is some concern about the effect of taking Echinacea when an autoimmune disorder is present. However, to date, no research has yet been published in medical journals on the effects of Echinacea on autoimmune types of arthritis. What little has been published on the effects of Echinacea on other types of autoimmune disorders is of little use in determining safety for people with arthritis.
Which brings us back to my general advice about any treatment you might be considering. Learn what you can about the specific effects of a treatment. If you decide to try it, pay close attention to the specific effects of this substance on your own body. Ultimately, what matters is whether it helps or harms YOU.
Share Your Echinacea Experience
If you have used Echinacea yourself, please write me whether it had any negative (or positive) effect on your arthritis. I’m really curious. If very many of you have had negative effects, I need to stop mentioning Echinacea as a treatment for colds and sniffles and warn folks of the possible dangers.
[Author’s note: To date reader responses are running 2/3 reporting good results using Echinacea, 1/3 negative. Responses have been primarily from readers with rheumatoid arthritis. To share your experience please leave a comment below.]
20 Comments On Echinacea: Friend or Foe if You Have Arthritis?
I doubt Echinacea caused your RA, but if you happens to be an inflammatory trigger for you, it might be making it worse. The way to test is not to have any Echinacea for at least a week. This clears it out of your system and unmasks any possible reaction you are having to Echinacea. Then add it back for a single serving. Notice how you feel for the next 3-4 days. During this time do your best not do anything else that might trigger inflammation. If you feel fine during those 3-4 days, Echinacea is not an inflammatory trigger for you. It is best to test while you are feeling relatively good, to make it easier to notice any change.
Date : 17th Feb 2017 | By : Barbara Allan
Last year I started taking Echinacea. I don't remember why or who suggested it. I have hypothyrodism so it might have been for that or someone said to try it for my migraines. In December I was diagnosed with RA. I have an appointment to see an RA Specialist soon. I woke up thinking about what I was taking and it's side effects. Googled Echinacea and found your article. If there was nothing wrong with my immune system and I took this could it have caused my RA?
Date : 12th Feb 2017 | By : Terri Haskell-Bedgood
Thank you for sharing your experience with Echineaca and what you have discovered about how you are allergic to not only ragweed but other members of the ragweed family such as Echinacea and stevia. May this knowledge you shared help others as well. I wish you every success in discovering and elimininating all your reaction inducing foods and substances. You might also wish to look at some of the articles listed at the top of the page under the red navigation bar heading "Who Gets Well." Over time I lost all of the reactions that were triggering my arthritis. Those articles talk about how I and others have done that.
Date : 1st Sep 2016 | By : Barbara Allan
I wanted to share a little known fact about Echinacea; it is related to ragweed... I am severely allergic to ragweed and many of its plant relatives. The sweetener Stevia is also in the same family as ragweed and I am also allergic to it. The reason that I know I am allergic is that I used to use Stevia in my coffee. I found that I developed plasma cell gingivitis and erythema in my mouth. I finally had to have patch testing done. I had them patch test me for 120 allergens and Stevia. Once I received the results, I did my own research and discovered these facts. I have had RA for 11 years now. It is under control, but I definitely have to read all labels and I use very specific products that I have found that I can tolerate. I also discovered that I am allergic to mint, cinnamon, beeswax, wool alcohol and gold among other things. I am still discovering something new as I explore the vast material out there...
Date : 1st Sep 2016 | By : Sharon B.
I'm sorry to hear that you have had continuous flu for the last month and severe pain in your feet. I am not a doctor and even if I was, I would need to see you in person before prescribing any course of treatment. You can find suggested Echinacea doses on other websites, but strongly urge you to see a good medical profession who can hopefully give you an accurate diagnosis. Without a good diagnosis first, it is difficult to know what needs to be done. Treatment that is based on mistaken thinking about what is causing your symptoms or fail to take into consideration some important component of what is causing your symptoms, may be ineffective at best and dangerous at worst.
Date : 3rd Mar 2016 | By : Barbara Allan
I am having continuous flu for v past few month and I got severe pain on my feet can you tell me how much should I take and what type ,just to let you know that I am from v UK
Date : 3rd Mar 2016 | By : Safix
Thanks for sharing your negative experience with Echincea. It is important for people to realize that for some people with arthritis, like you, Echincea can trigger pain.
Date : 1st Feb 2016 | By : Barbara Allan
I have had RA for 11 years, I took this and had severe pain in my neck and back. I will never take this again.
Date : 1st Feb 2016 | By : Deb
Thank you for sharing your experience. As you track it, I love to hear back from you about whether your psoriatic arthritis appears to improve while on echinacea. I actually didn't means to imply that arthritis would improve when taking echinacea. Instead what I have noticed is that all foods and supplements have the potential to trigger inflammation in some subset of people. Therefore some healthy herbs, like echinacea, are great at what they do for many people (helping the immune system fight infection) but not so great for others because they trigger inflammation of the joints, making arthritis worse.
Date : 17th Dec 2015 | By : Barbara Allan
I have psoriatic arthritis and outbreaks of skin psoriasis, and have had them for many years. I take glucosamine-condroitan year-round for the former, and it helps ease my discomfort from arthritis. I take echinacea during "flu season" (autumn, winter, early spring) to ward off colds and flu (I don't get the shots); I also keep Esberitox on hand, and take it immediately if I get any cold or flu symptoms, in addition to the daily echinacea. I have been on this regimen for about a decade (I am 69 years old). So far, knock wood, I have not had any virus infections, nor have I noticed any increase in my arthritis pain. I haven't noticed any particular decrease either, but then I wasn't looking for any. I suspect that even if I did notice an increase in my arthritis discomfort, I would still take the echinacea...I have lived with arthritis since I was 25, and find that easier than dealing with the misery of colds and flu! As a friend of mine said, life is full of trade-offs!
I hadn't really thought about echinacea improving my psoriasis, but now that I've heard of that possibility, I will monitor it. There does seem to be a lessening of outbreaks this time of year...perhaps there is a connection.
You're right...someone needs to study this!
Date : 16th Dec 2015 | By : Stella J
Echinacea modulates the immune system to help fight off infection. Apparently part of its effect on your immune system is also to reduce inflammation. I'm glad it has this good effect for you!
Date : 7th Dec 2015 | By : Barbara Allan
At Thanksgiving my daughter and grandkids came to visit us in Arkansas. One of the kids was sick with a virus. After they went home, the rest of us became sick with it. Since I am in college, I started taking Echinacea to help my body fight this virus. It helped and I didn't get very sick. I noticed after four days on Echinacea that my arthritis in my hip is not hurting and I have better mobility. I haven't had to take my Vimovo for a couple of days. Is this the effect of the Echinacea on the inflammation? This is not RA.
Date : 7th Dec 2015 | By : Anita
I'm glad echinacea gives you such profound pain relief from your severe osteoarthritis. How much do you take and for long to you take it at a time?
Date : 26th Nov 2015 | By : Barbara Allan
I have severe osteoarthritis in every joint in my body. I have tried every medicine there is. Every time I take Echinacea my joint pain disappears completely. However I don't take Echinacea continuously because I read where doing so could harm your immune system from overdosing. I would love to know if I could take it all the time because it sure would make my life easier.
Date : 25th Nov 2015 | By : Nancy
I've had Ra for about 3 yrs now and I've noticed that when ever I take echinacea it causes stiffness in my neck and shoulders. I will never take this again.
Date : 24th Aug 2015 | By : I've had Ra for about 3 yrs now and I've noticed that when ever I take echinacea it causes stiffness in my neck and shoulders. I will never take this again.
Dear Jenny, thanks for letting me know about your reaction.
I’m deeply sorry to hear you are in almost unbearable pain and hardly able to walk. If the Echinaea triggered a delayed food sensitivity (the type behind chronic inflammation) then it will take about 7 days for that reaction to clear. Yes, since this is acting as an inflammatory trigger for you, avoiding all traces of will be important for you healing.
My ongoing informal poll still shows about ½ of people who have responded have a strong negative reaction to echinachia and about ½ love it and swear by it.
My best wishes to you in your healing process. If I can be of any assistance, please let me know.
Date : 4th Aug 2015 | By : Barbara Allan
Yesterday I took echinachia since I felt a cold coming on. I also have been diagnosed with arthritis but I can live with it with pain meds as Pronaxen. During the night and this morning however the pain have been and is almost unbearable, I am hardly able to walk. I decided to check on echinachia and it\'s effect on arthiritis and found your article, So here is my answer re. echinachia. No more of that for me. Sincerely // Jenny (lives in Sweden)
Date : 4th Aug 2015 | By : Jenny
Glad the Echinacea seems to be helping.
Date : 23rd Dec 2014 | By : Barbara Allan
I have stenosis of the lumbar region caused by advanced arthritis and normally take devils claw and white willow bark for pain, My husband brought home a cold so yesterday I started taking my Echinacea as preventative. I noticed my pain had eased last night I kind of brushed it off to the weather or whatever, but today I ran out of the devil's claw and still my pain is better then it has been in quite some time, and its raining tonight. That is when I decided to look for information on Echinacea and arthritis and found your page. I think I will continue taking it.
Date : 22nd Dec 2014 | By : Susan
I have used Echineaca for years....on the slightest chance of a cold etc...I hit my body with larger dosing of "E" for a couple days and I knock whatever could happen, OUT.
Today, I had a flare up in a dental area that has been problematic and I hit my body with 800mg in 2 doses in about 3 hours and the pain is about gone.
In addition, I'm feeling an improvement in the OA lower back pain I deal with daily.....so, for NOW, I'm going to stay with "E" for a week or so, daily, and see if the pain (infection connection) stays away. I KNOW, "E" should not be taken ongoing as it is a natural antiobiotic type.
A book, Rheumatoid Arthritis, The Infection Connection is mostly about abx therapy, low dose, long course....
I tried that for 3 months but a clump of hair came out and so I stopped.....I'm not wild about pharma abx anyway....
Again, I deal with OA and Fibro mess and I'm 75, and dealing with a mess from hip replacement 3 yrs ago.....jam
Date : 26th Nov 2013 | By : Jam
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