Many people turn to zinc and echinacea following the belief that these supplements will boost their immune systems to fight colds, the flu and other common illnesses. However, do not replace conventional medicine with these supplements. Also, you should take caution when using supplements, as they often come with side effects and can interact with medications. Check with your doctor before taking zinc and echinacea.
People predominantly use echinacea due to claims that it strengthens the immune system. Your immune system needs zinc, an essential trace element, to function properly. Zinc also might improve acne and age-related macular degeneration, fight stomach ulcers and sickle cell disease, improve symptoms of ADHD and hold a number of other benefits. Zinc also contains antioxidant qualities, helping your body fight free radicals that might cause cancer and other diseases. However, more research is needed to back up these claims.
A review of zinc studies published in the January to Febuary 2008 issue of "Archivum Immunologiae et Therapiae Experimentalis" found that zinc supplementation seemed to help conditions like chronic hepatitis C, diarrhea, leprosy, tuberculosis and acute lower respiratory infection, but did not help rheumatoid arthritis. It is unknown whether zinc helps a cold or malaria, and zinc supplementation might worsen type 1 diabetes and AIDS. A review of echinacea studies published in the September 2003 issue of "Integrative Cancer Therapies" found that echinacea extracts seem to shorten the length and severity of respiratory infections and colds when taken as soon as the person experiences symptoms.
You can obtain zinc through your diet, in foods like meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, legumes, some vegetables and whole grains. However, your body absorbs zinc better from animal sources than plant ones. You can also find zinc in supplement form. The recommended daily amount of zinc for regular populations is 11 mg for men 19 and older and 8 mg for women 19 and older. Echinacea comes in a number of forms; the common doses are 0.5 to 5 mL of liquid extract or 1/2 to 2 g in capsule, tablet or tea form. In whichever form you choose, you take it three times a day.
Although generally regarded as safe, ask your doctor before using echinacea. Avoid it if you have an autoimmune disorder or progressive systemic disorder. Do not use echinacea for longer than six to eight weeks in a row because it tends to lose its efficacy. Talk to your doctor before taking zinc supplements, especially for doses over 40 mg a day, and before giving it to a child. Zinc supplements can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, anemia and other symptoms. If you take too much zinc, it might even reduce your immune function, lead to a copper deficiency and can cause unhealthy cholesterol levels. Zinc can also interfere with medications, so talk to your doctor if you are on medications.
- The Herb Research Foundation; Echinacea; Evelyn Leigh
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Zinc
- "Archivum Immunologiae et Therapiae Experimentalis"; Modulating the Immune Response by Oral Zinc Supplementation...; S. Overbeck, et al.; January to February 2008
- "Integrative Cancer Therapies"; Immune System Effects of Echinacea, Ginseng, and Astragalus: A Review; K.I. Block, et al.; September 2003