Long-term use of Echinacea slows immune-system response

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY

March 18, 2001|By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon,Special to the Sun; King Features Syndicate

Q. I have been taking Echinacea with goldenseal every day since the beginning of fall. It works great. My husband has had four terrible colds since fall, and I haven't caught any of them.

I have been hearing, however, that it is not good to continue taking Echinacea over a long period of time. I was told to wait until I think I might be getting a cold and then take it for a week to 10 days.

It seems silly to me to wait until you get sick to start taking Echinacea, but I don't want to damage my body. Will I do myself harm by continuing to take Echinacea and goldenseal?

A. Echinacea seems to stimulate the immune system so you are better able to resist infections. In one study, though, repeated use of Echinacea over a period of many weeks actually lowered the immune response. As a result, most herb authorities suggest taking Echinacea for no more than six to eight weeks in a row to avoid suppressing immunity.

There are many other approaches to avoiding and treating cold viruses, including Chinese herbs such as kan jang and astragalus that boost immunity.

Q. In response to a question about winter dry skin, I'd like to pass along another remedy. I work with new mothers who are breast-feeding. Lansinoh, an ointment often recommended to keep nipples from drying out, is also effective in treating dry skin on hands, elbows or feet. It is inexpensive and available at many pharmacies. A little goes a long way, and it's great for treating chapped lips and minor cuts or scrapes.

A. Lansinoh is a purified lanolin product designed to ease cracked nipples, a common problem early in breast-feeding. It is produced by Lansinoh Laboratories and is distributed to pharmacies by Hollister: 800-323-4060. Consumers can also buy it from the breast-feeding support organization, La Leche League International.

Lanolin is a time-honored moisturizer. Farmers use it to treat chapped udders, since it is an ingredient in Bag Balm (call 800-232-3610) and Udder Cream (call 800-345-7339). Many people find these farm staples great for dry skin, too.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of the People's Pharmacy, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717, or e-mail them at their Web site (www.peoplespharmacy.com) on the HealthCentral.com network.

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