Echinacea: Not for People With Diabetes

Tip128Echinacea is an herb native to the United States and southern Canada. It is said to stimulate the immune system and is typically used to treat or prevent colds, flu, and other infections, although studies so far have failed to show its effectiveness. According to the World Health Organization, therein lies the potential problem.

The 1999 edition of WHO Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants states that echinacea, "should not be used in serious conditions such as tuberculosis, leukosis, collagenosis, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, HIV infection and autoimmune disorders." More recent studies continue to confirm this finding although a 2005 study on the testing of echinacea in mice revealed that the consumption of echinacea by the mice had no negative results.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. Many people with diabetes also have other immune disorders such as celiac disease. Therefore the use of echinacea may introduce unexpected complications, especially for people with type 1 diabetes.

1 - Echinacea could hasten the loss of beta cells, which produce insulin in the pancreas.
2 - For people who do not already have another autoimmune disease, echinacea may increase their risk of developing another condition.

Whether you are type 1 or type 2, when including any herb or supplement in your diabetes management plan, caution is your best defense. Talk to your doctor or registered dietitian about whether or not echinacea is right for you.

Reviewed by Francine Kaufman, MD. 4/08

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