For Allergy and Asthma, Herbs Can Help and Harm
WebMD News Archive
Echinacea is a flowering plant related
to the daisy and ragweed, Mullins says. It might provoke asthma or an allergic
reaction in people who are allergic to components common to all of those
plants. Echinacea's popularity Down Under has exploded in recent years, due to
reports that "it may stimulate white blood cells to gobble up germs more
effectively." Mullins warns that such claims are based on statements taken
out of context from scientific papers.
Nevertheless, Australians take an
estimated 200 million doses of it annually. Reactions to echinacea account for
more than 10% of the adverse reports involving alternative medicine in
Australia. But this could be an underestimate, says Mullins, because "minor
reactions such as transient rashes or worsening of underlying asthma are likely
to go unnoticed and unreported."
"We need to challenge the concept
that natural means safe," he says. "Herbal medicines have not been
examined carefully for risks. If you have allergies, including asthma, eczema,
and hay fever, I recommend that you don't take echinacea at
- In a study on rats, a formulation of herbal Chinese medicines called MTSD
was just as effective as a more conventional steroid medication in the
treatment of asthma.
- Another Chinese medicine, ding-chan tang, showed some effect against
asthma, but not as much as the other two treatments.
- Researchers caution consumers about taking alternative medicines, including
echinacea, because the substances may cause serious, even fatal,