[MOL] Echinacea stimulates immune system [00781] Medicine On Line

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[MOL] Echinacea stimulates immune system

Echinacea stimulates immune system

NEW YORK, Mar 05 (Reuters Health) -- Results of a preliminary study indicate that echinacea, an herb sold over-the-counter as a cold remedy, boosts activity in white blood cells, immune cells that fight infection, according to a researcher at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

"If for years we've been saying echinacea does this, it's nice to know that it does," said researcher Susan Percival of the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Echinacea, derived from the purple coneflower, has been used for centuries in the belief that it can reduce the severity and duration of colds.

In the study, Percival gave 10 healthy, college-age men an echinacea supplement for 4 days. Taking samples of their blood on day 1 and day 4, she found that by day 4, the men's white blood cells had a three times greater ability to kill bacteria.

But in a statement issued by the University of Florida, Percival said her findings do not mean that people should take the herb regularly, in the absence of cold symptoms.

Percival noted that "a stimulated immune system produces a lot of free radicals, and we know from other research that free radicals are not a good thing. We want the free radicals to kill microorganisms, but we don't want free radicals being produced all the time because they will damage healthy tissues."

The researcher said she intended to expand and repeat the preliminary study with the goal of submitting a full-scale study proposal to the National Institutes of Health.

"It's very important that we find out exactly what the active compounds are and how they work," Percival noted.