Since the late 1970s, cancer treatment centers in China have used herbal immunostimulants to bolster the immune system during or after chemotherapy. A 1989 German study showed that a polysaccharide extracted from purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) stimulated antimicrobial and antitumor activity of human white blood cells called macrophages. Researchers speculated that in patients undergoing chemotherapy, this effect might counter the severe toxicity and immune system suppression associated with some chemotherapy drugs.
Patients receiving the chemotherapy drug cisplatin often experience weight loss and diminished kidney function. In 1997, researchers at the Oncological Institute in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, gave forty mice an alcohol extract of whole dried plants of pale purple coneflower (E. pallida) standardized to contain 1 percent immunostimulatory polysaccharides or a saline solution both before and during administration of cisplatin. After ten days, the mice receiving the echinacea extract lost less weight and recovered faster than the mice that received the placebo. The extract also significantly increased kidney oxygen consumption to near normal values. A clinical trial of a commercial extract of E. pallida in patients undergoing chemotherapy is in progress at the institute.
Steven Foster is an author, photographer and consultant specializing in medicinal plants (www.StevenFoster.com).
Mustea, I., et al. “Experimental Evaluation of Protective Activity of Echinacea pallida against Cisplatin Toxicity”. Phytotherapy Research 1997, 11(3):263-265.
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