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ETH - Eidgenoessische Technische Hochschule Zuerich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich
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Published: 14.10.2004, 06:00
Modified: 13.10.2004, 20:23
ETH scientists investigate echinacea
Secret revealed

(res) Numerous studies have either proved, or cast doubt on, the effect of drugs produced from extracts from the echinacea plant. For the founding father of Western naturopathy, Alfred Vogel (1902–1996), the effect of his most famous remedy, Echinaforce, produced from the fresh plant of the purple cone flower (Echinacea purpurea) were an established fact based on time honoured experience. Now, for the first time, a team of researchers under the guidance of Dr. Jürg Gertsch from the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences ETH Zurich (1), in a study financed by Bioforce AG in Roggwil, have succeeded in demonstrating the effect mechanism of echinacea on cells of the immune system, at the molecular biological level. This current research has roused interest in specialist circles, not least because a number of other research institutes are also working on the effect of Echinacea.

The evidence was provided with an in vitro experiment. To start with, cells from human blood were cultivated, which were then mixed in a test-tube with liquid extract from Echinacea purpurea. Gertsch: "Following that, an infection was simulated and then examined to determine what effect the fresh plant tincture and finally individual substances had on the genes in the immune cells. We saw that the cells produce special proteins that play an important role in the human immune system." The team also discovered that–for the main part–the amazing effect is produced primarily by one of the compounds that are released from the Echinacea plant, so-called alkamides. These substances are structurally similar to the endocannbinoides produced in our bodies.


Scientific fact: Echinaforce boosts the body's own immune system. large

In various steps and using computer models the team showed that specific surface structures of the immune system, (so-called receptors) recognise the alkamides contained in the Echinaforce. When these alkamides connect to the receptors, a host of signals are triggered in the cell, which finally releases the observed tumor-necrose-factor alpha modulation (TNF-a).

According to Gertsch, one aspect is of particular interest; the alkamides bind to the cannabinoide receptor, the CB2 expressed on the immune cells, and the CB1, which mainly affects the brain and central nervous system. Work is continuing, within the framework of a PhD thesis, to obtain a more precise characterisation of these interactions.

(1) Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences ETH Zurich:

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