When stress depresses the immune system, Echinacea can help, study suggests

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

When stress depresses the immune system, Echinacea can help, study suggests

Related tags Echinacea Immune health

In a recent study, South Korean researchers confirmed that an Echinacea ingredient bolsters the immune system of mice subjected to stress.

The study, titled “Echinacea purpurea Protects Against Restraint Stress-Induced Immunosuppression in BALB/c Mice,”​ used Frutarom’s Echishield ingredient. The company says Echishield is obtained from the dried, pressed juice of Echinacea purpurea. Frutarom supported and participated in the study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Food.

Mice stressed prior to intervention

The new study investigated the protective effect of Echishield against stress induced changes in immunological function in vivo. The researchers used 70 mice divided into five groups; a control group and four groups testing different dosages of the ingredient. 

The mice were housed in identical cages and fed the same standard laboratory feed. They were stressed by being restrained in a tube for 18 hours prior to supplementation. After sacrifice, various blood markers were evaluated by harvesting the spleens of the animals.

Results of the study showed that Echishield enhanced immune function, restoring stress-induced changes to levels similar to those in the normal group, as measured by splenocyte proliferation and NK cell activity, both of which recovered following treatment. Additionally, the study showed that Echishield modulated blood T-cell distribution, normalized upregulated serum levels and mRNA expressions of cytokines (such as IL-6, IL-10, and IL-17), which are responsible for inflammation and autoimmune diseases.

Maider Gutierrez, Frutarom Health’s director of marketing, said this latest study adds to a series of preclinical and clinical trials (alongside safety data) conducted by Frutarom, and supports the hypothesis that Echishield has a positive, beneficial effect on the immune system.

“This study indicates that this sustainable, pure ingredient is beneficial for the immune system,”​ she said. “Frutarom provides this water-soluble formula as an ingredient for supplements, although it is safe and suitable for beverages where allowed.”

Ingredient's functional parameters complicate study design

The study design could potentially help get around one of the issues with the study of Echinacea. For years, the botanical, which has a longer history in the industry than most, has been lauded for its ability to shorten the duration of cold symptoms, and potentially to guard against the infections taking hold in the first place. 

But to have this effect, the standard wisdom has been that a high dose taken immediately upon the appearance of the first symptoms was necessary. This makes the efficient recruitment of test subjects difficult.

Naturopaths and other integrative health care practitioners will always tell you the time to take Echinacea to fend off a cold or the flu is at the very first sign of a symptom. So for example weve had studies using college students who were enrolled when they started noticing symptoms. But by the time they decided they were getting a cold, to getting around to signing up for the study and actually getting dosed, it was usually too late,​said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council.

Frutarom’s study induced an immunosuppression that potentially could mimic the conditions that lead to the development of colds in humans (not getting enough sleep or exercise, poor diet, etc.). This could drive at the modes of action, rather than trying to assemble an epidemiological sample, which is difficult for the reasons stated above.

Expanding market

Frutarom notes that the market for Echinacea preparations is expanding strongly. Innova Market Insights reports 8% average annual growth in new product launches with Echinacea, CAGR 2013-2017. Top categories as percentage of new food & beverage launches tracked with Echinacea as an ingredient (Global, 2017) are supplements 56%, hot drinks 29%, and soft drinks 8%. Hot drinks are the fastest growing category for Echinacea, posting an average annual growth rate of 23% from 2013 to 2017.

Gutierrez pointed to Frutarom’s long history with Echinacea cultivation which boosts the ingredient’s transparency and traceability. The raw material for Echishield is cultivated in a specific area of Germany where the company has 25 years of experience in contracting for the production of the botanical.

Frutarom will be highlighting Echishield along with its other ingredients at this week’s Vitafoods Europe trade show in Geneva, Switzerland. The company can be found at booth C20.

Source:Journal of Medicinal Food
Echinacea purpurea Protects Against Restraint Stress-Induced Immunosuppression in BALB/c Mice
2018 Mar;21(3):261-268. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2017.4073.
Authors: Park S, Lee MS, Jung S, et al.

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