Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Echinacea: A Bad Bet for MS?

Why should people with multiple sclerosis avoid taking echinacea? MS is an autoimmune disease and echinacea enhances the immune system. Am I missing something?

Answer (Published 3/13/2003)

With multiple sclerosis (MS) and other autoimmune diseases the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues. In the case of MS, it damages myelin, the protective covering of nerves in the central nervous system. This interferes with conduction of nerve impulses, leading to such symptoms as losses of vision, motor strength, coordination and bowel and bladder control. Depending on what type of MS you have, symptoms may come and go or progressively worsen. Drug treatments for the disease suppress the immune system so that flare-ups of autoimmunity become less likely.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Immune Health - Do you know which vitamins to take? Find out what is recommended for your optimum health with your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor Profile.

Echinacea, from the dried root and leaves of the purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea and related species, stimulates the immune system. It is used to treat common colds and other minor infections. Some people take echinacea to enhance immunity in the absence of infection.

When you have MS, getting a cold is more than an uncomfortable nuisance. Viral infections can trigger flare-ups of the disease so you have to be pretty careful about how you deal with them. I think it is okay for MS patients to use echinacea on a short term basis for the duration of a cold or other minor infection. But I wouldn't recommend using it on a long term basis - we simply don't know whether the way echinacea affects immune function impacts the potential for autoimmunity. (This same caution applies to other immune-enhancing herbs such as astragalus).

You might be interested to know what the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has to say on the subject: "...echinacea may stimulate the immune system. This is a theoretical risk for people with MS because their immune systems are already inappropriately stimulated. No study has been done to investigate this theoretical risk in people with MS."

Andrew Weil, M.D.


Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here