Assessing the Effect of Orally Administered Echinacea purpurea Extracts vs. Placebo on Pro-Inflammatory Cytokine Responses Ex Vivo
Cynthia A Wenner
Erica Oberg
James A Taylor




Objective: To determine if aqueous, polysaccharide-containing Echinacea purpurea extracts taken orally increase pro-inflammatory cytokine responses ex vivo. 

Design: In two separate studies, the levels of TNF-alpha (TNF), interleukins 2 and 6 (IL-2 and IL-6) and interferon gamma (IFN-γ) secreted by phytohemagglutinin (PHA)-stimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from healthy adults randomized to take one of three E. purpurea formulations or placebo orally for 10 consecutive days were measured. Blood was obtained from participants at baseline and on days 2, 3, 7, and 10 while on study medication. PBMC were isolated and stimulated with PHA for 24 h, and supernatants collected for measurement of pro-inflammatory cytokine levels.

Outcome Measures: Primary outcomes were peak concentrations of PHA-induced TNF, IL-2, IL-6, and IFN-γ from PBMC isolates collected while on study medication. Cytokine responses of PBMC from participants randomized to one of the Echinacea formulations were compared with those of placebo recipients by regression analysis.

Results: Cytokine levels were obtained from mitogen-activated PBMC from 86 participants, collected while on study medication. No significant differences in the peak levels of PBMC-secreted TNF, IL-2, IL-6 and IFN-γ were observed between PBMC from those taking active Echinacea preparation vs. a placebo. After adjusting for age, a trend toward increased IL-6 secreted by PHA-stimulated PBMC isolated on day 3 of oral administration was observed for the group taking one of the E. purpurea formulations compared with placebo (P=0.064).

Conclusions: Oral administration of E. purpurea did not significantly enhance peak pro-inflammatory cytokine responses in mitogen-stimulated PBMC.



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