The medicinal herb echinacea, commonly used to stimulate immune function and combat viral infections, is generally safe. When used in recommended doses by healthy adults, echinacea is unlikely to cause serious side effects. However, like all medicinal herbs, echinacea can cause some side effects and drug interactions. There are a few echinacea contraindications– circumstances under which the herb should not be taken.
Do not use echinacea if you fall into any of the following high-risk categories.
Preliminary evidence suggests that echinacea is safe for short-term use during pregnancy, but no well-designed, large-scale studies have proven this. Midwives and obstetricians generally err on the side of caution and regard pregnancy as an echinacea contraindication. In theory, echinacea can trigger contractions in the uterus, leading to preterm labor or miscarriage. It could also cause birth defects when it is used early in pregnancy, but no studies have confirmed or refuted this hypothesis.
Children Under 2 Years of Age
No studies have evaluated echinacea’s safety in babies and toddlers under age two, and it’s unclear if echinacea can be harmful to young children. Side effects may be more common in babies, who are generally more susceptible to problems caused by herbs and medications. There is also no evidence that echinacea works for young children. In general, echinacea is recommended only for children above two years of age.
People with Autoimmune Disorders
Because echinacea stimulates the immune system, it can worsen the effects of auto-immune disorders– conditions in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells. If you have an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, or psoriasis, you should not use echinacea. Report any changes in your symptoms to a qualified health care provider.
People who Are Allergic to Echinacea
Echinacea is a member of the daisy family, which includes common allergens such as ragweed and chrysanthemum. Although many people with allergies to ragweed can safely take echinacea, others may experience an allergic reaction. If you believe you are allergic to echinacea, it is best to avoid any supplements made from the herb. Use it with caution if you have an allergy to ragweed or chamomile.
Visit the National Institutes of Health for more information about echinacea contraindications.