Health: Is Echinacea the wonder herb it's claimed to be?

Could it raise endurance boosting EPO levels?

According to a new study, a daily dose of the herb echinacea can help your body increase levels of the red blood cell boosting hormone Erythropoietin (EPO), significantly increasing your endurance capacity.

Because red blood cells transport oxygen to the muscles, increasing your EPO levels can be an ergogenic aid, upping performance and keeping you going harder for longer. The hormone is produced naturally in the kidneys, but the use of synthetic EPO and blood doping is a big problem in pro cycling. This is both illegal and dangerous.

According to Dr Malcolm T Whitehead of the Department of Physical Therapy, Arkansas State University, USA: “Abuse of synthetic EPO can result in an increase in the viscosity of the blood, and if red blood cells increase beyond a certain point the blood becomes thickened. This means it won’t flow well through vessels, increasing blood pressure, and could possibly lead to states such as strokes.”

As it’s a naturally occurring hormone, though, boosting your levels of EPO safely and naturally is achievable. A recent study from the Department of Health and Human Performance at Northwestern State University, USA, found that echinacea could create a legal way to increase your levels of the hormone.

Whitehead led the study, giving participants either a placebo or 8g per day of echinacea for 28 days. “The intake of oral echinacea resulted in an increase in the naturally occurring EPO levels similar to the results obtained from altitude training,” says Whitehead. “There was a significant increase in the per cent change of measured maximal oxygen uptake in the experimental as compared to the control group.”

He stressed that more research is needed for highly trained athletes, but for recreational riders, there could be noticeable positive effects.

Echinacea, the wonder herb

There are many other claims for the virtues of echinacea. Here are just some of them…

Treatment and prevention of the common cold: Some studies have found that taking echinacea as soon as you feel the first signs of a cold (or other upper respiratory tract infections) can significantly reduce the severity of symptoms. Others advise that taking echinacea prior to being exposed to the cold virus may prevent you from getting ill.

Snake bite cure: Traditionally echinacea was used for the treatment of snake bites and reportedly to reduce the spread of venom.

Anti-inflammatory: In inflammation caused by a viral or a bacterial infection, echinacea has been shown to reduce the swelling in some cases.

Anti-cancer: Yes, this is a big claim, but in one study 15 participants with far-advanced cancers were given echinacea and the average survival time of all patients was four months – which was longer than expected. A bit vague… but maybe it really is the wonder drug?

Other suggested uses for echinacea include to treat wounds, herpes, burns, ulcers, acne, eczema, blood poisoning, and allergies.

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