Can Echinacea be used for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis?

Firstly, Echinacea is not indicated as any kind of treatment or enhancement for inflammatory bowel disease.

Echinacea, a herb with immune-enhancing properties, is a member of the sunflower family. North Americans used it at the turn of the last century as a treatment for infections, but it lost favour with the discovery of antibiotics. It is experiencing a resurgence of interest over the last decade. In traditional medicine, Echinacea is used to treat upper respiratory illnesses such as colds and influenzas (flu). The most common types of Echinacea found in North American products are e.purpurea, e.pallida, and e.augustofolia. When using any plant based product it is significant to determine which part of the plant is being used to formulate the product, the root, flower, or stem. Different parts of the plant may contain different constituents with very different effects. Overall, 11 different types of Echinacea exist. Buying Echinacea is not a simple process.

The next question is whether or not the anti-inflammatory properties of Echinacea are counter-productive for inflammatory bowel disease patients who may want to use this product to help combat a cold or flu. If a Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis patient were to use Echinacea, the best bet would be to use e.purpurea as it has been used for many years in folklore medicine for its wound healing effects and its potential for increasing the body’s resistance to infection. Dose and formulation varies according to product. The reason for using e.purpurea over e.augustofolia, is that e.augustofolia has demonstrated, in vitro, to increase immune function which may potentially work against conventional anti-inflammatory treatment. Aerial portions of the plant contain the only effective constituents, so be sure the product contains flower and stem derivatives. In my opinion, the inflammatory bowel disease patient may be better served by other complementary medicines that are used to supplement conventional treatments, such as taking vitamins, A, C, and E, and flax seed oil.

Caution: Because of the non-specific nature of the immune-stimulary effects of Echinacea, it has been suggested the paitents with auto-immune disease, tuberculosis, or multiple sclerosis, or those receiving immunosuppressive therapy (such as corticosteroids or cyclyosporins) should avoid its use.

Adil Saleh, BSc (Pharm), R.PEPC
First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 122 – November/December 2000