The herb Echinacea purpurea, also called purple coneflower, is regarded as an immune modulator. This study examined changes in cytokine production in blood samples from 30 volunteers before and during 8-day oral administration with an ethanolic extract of fresh Echinacea purpurea (Echinaforce(®)). Daily blood samples were ex vivo stimulated by LPS/SEB or Zymosan and analysed for a series of cytokines and haematological and metabolic parameters. Treatment reduced the proinflammatory mediators TNF-α and IL-1β by up to 24% (p<0.05) and increased anti-inflammatory IL-10 levels by 13% (p<0.05) in comparison to baseline. This demonstrated a substantial overall anti-inflammatory effect of Echinaforce(®) for the whole group (n=28). Chemokines MCP-1 and IL-8 were upregulated by 15% in samples from subjects treated with Echinaforce(®) (p<0.05). An analysis of a subgroup of volunteers who showed low pre-treatment levels of the cytokines MCP-1, IL-8, IL-10 or IFN-γ (n=8) showed significant stimulation of these factors upon Echinaforce(®) treatment (30-49% increases; p<0.05), whereas the levels in subjects with higher pre-treatment levels remained unaffected. We chose the term "adapted immune-modulation" to describe this observation. Volunteers who reported high stress levels (n=7) and more than 2 colds per year experienced a significant transient increase in IFN-γ upon Echinaforce(®) treatment (>50%). Subjects with low cortisol levels (n=11) showed significant down-regulation of the acute-phase proteins IL1-β, IL-6, IL-12 and TNF-α by Echinaforce(®) (range, 13-25%), while subjects with higher cortisol levels showed no such down-regulation. This is the first ex vivo study to demonstrate adapted immune-modulation by an Echinacea preparation. While Echinaforce(®) did not affect leukocyte counts, we speculate that the underlying therapeutic mechanism is based on differential multi-level modulation of the responses of the different types of leukocytes. Echinaforce(®) thus regulates the production of chemokines and cytokines according to current immune status, such as responsiveness to exogenous stimuli, susceptibility to viral infection and exposure to stress.
Crown Copyright © 2011. Published by Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.