Common symptoms of upper respiratory infections, such as sore throat, cough, and inflammation, are often caused by bacteria, sometimes as a complication of virus infection. Extracts of Echinacea purpurea (Asteraceae) have been advocated traditionally for use by individuals suffering from these symptoms, although the underlying basis for the beneficial effects of Echinacea is not known. We hypothesized that Echinacea could inactivate certain respiratory bacteria and could also reverse inflammatory effects caused by these bacteria in epithelial cells. In order to test this we used a commercial standardized extract of Echinacea purpurea (Echinaforce), and a novel cytokine array system designed to measure simultaneously the levels of 20 different cytokines secreted by bronchial epithelial cell cultures in response to infection. Streptococcus pyogenes (Group A Strep), which is often associated with sore throat and more severe pulmonary infections, was readily inactivated by Echinacea, which also completely reversed the cellular pro-inflammatory response. Hemophilus influenzae and Legionella pneumophila were also readily inactivated, and their pro-inflammatory responses reversed. Staphylococcus aureus (methicillin-resistant and sensitive strains) and Mycobacterium smegmatis were less sensitive to the bactericidal effects of Echinacea however, but their pro-inflammatory responses were still completely reversed. In contrast some other pathogens tested, including Candida albicans, were relatively resistant. Thus Echinaforce) exerts a dual action against several important respiratory bacteria, a killing effect and an anti-inflammatory effect. These results support the concept of using a standardized Echinacea preparation to control symptoms associated with bacterial respiratory infections.
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