Written by Karen Pilkington and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated February 8, 2017

Echinacea spp

Abstract and key points

  • Echinacea herbal preparations are produced from the flowering plants Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea pallida and Echinacea angustifolia.
  • Several potential uses of echinacea in cancer management have been investigated but there is currently insufficient robust evidence to support these.
  • Echinacea is generally well tolerated but little is known of its effects on anticancer drugs if given concurrently.

Echinacea (coneflower) products are herbal preparations derived from the root and above ground parts of the flowering plants Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea pallida and Echinacea angustifolia. Echinacea has a long history of medicinal use and is widely used in the treatment and prevention of upper respiratory tract infections. Claims in relation to cancer are that it can boost the immune system, reduce the adverse effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and has some anticancer effects. In vitro studies have suggested immunostimulating and anti-cancer activity of various constituents of echinacea. However, clinical studies investigating these effects have been limited by small sample sizes, lack of a control group or use of combination products. Echinacea is generally well-tolerated with the most frequently reported adverse effects being gastrointestinal upsets and rashes. Theoretically, echinacea may interact with immunosuppressive drugs and with metabolism of drugs via the cytochrome P450 system. In summary, there is currently insufficient evidence to support or refute the claims for echinacea in relation to cancer management.

Read about the regulation, supervision and reimbursement of herbal medicine at NAFKAMs website CAM Regulation.

Citation

Karen Pilkington, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Echinacea spp [online document]. http://www.cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Herbal-products/Echinacea-spp. February 8, 2017.

Document history

Assessed as up to date in February 2017 by Barbara Wider.
Assessed as up to date in April 2016 by Barbara Wider.

Assessed as up to date in January 2015 by Barbara Wider.
Minor update in April 2014 by Barbara Wider.

Most recent update and revision in October 2012 by Karen Pilkington.

Summary first published in July 2011, authored by Karen Pilkington.

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