Echinacea is a herbal medicine derived from a flowering plant which is a member of the daisy family. There are three different species available, the most studied of which is Echinacea purpurea. Some studies have suggested that Echinacea supplements may be useful to speed up recovery from the common cold, by shortening how long the cold lasts for and slightly reducing the severity of symptoms, but the effects seen were fairly minor. Echinacea is believed to strengthen the body's defences by boosting the immune system.

The effects of Echinacea on MS itself have not been studied. It has been shown to stimulate the immune system, which poses a theoretical risk to people with autoimmune conditions such as MS – although there have been no studies to test this idea. Echinacea may also possibly alter the effects of other drugs and supplements you are taking, so it is best to talk to your GP or pharmacist before using Echinacea. Some people taking Echinacea have experienced minor side effects such as an upset stomach, diarrhoea, nausea and dizziness.

Further research is needed to explore the potential risks and benefits associated with the use of Echinacea in MS.

Find out more

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Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014;(2):CD000530.
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Bowling AC.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. 2nd ed.
New York: Demos Medical Publishing; 2007.
Block KI, Mead MN.
Immune system effects of echinacea, ginseng, and astragalus: a review.
Integrative Cancer Therapies 2003;2(3):247-267.
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Kligler B.
American Family Physician 2003; 67(1):77-80
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