Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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Megadose of Echinacea raises EPO level

Give human athletes eight grams of Echinacea purpurea daily, and their EPO production increases by more than fifty percent American researchers at Northwestern State University discovered. The supplement had no effect on the concentration of red blood cells or the oxygen carrying haemoglobin but there is a solution to this.

Megadose of Echinacea raises EPO level
The researchers came up with the idea of examining the effect of Echinacea on red blood cells because other studies had shown that Echinacea increases the production of immune cells. Maybe Echinacea has a similar effect on the oxygen transporting red blood cells, was the researchers' thinking. So they gave twelve male amateur athletes a daily dose of eight grams of Echinacea purpurea for twelve weeks. That's a pretty high dose. Most supplements manufacturers advise a daily dose of a few hundred milligrams.

Twelve other test subjects were given a placebo.

Below you see the effects of the supplement on the concentrations of EPO and Interleukin-3. Interleukin-3 is a cytokine that increases the manufacture of blood cells including that of red blood cells.

Day 7

Day 14

Day 21








The table only shows the statistically significant effects. The blood values that really mean something to endurance athletes like the number of red blood cells or the concentration of haemoglobin[organic iron] in the blood did rise as well, but the effects were not statistically significant.

Echinacea purpurea
The findings are not that strange. The Italian sports doctors that gave the national cycling team huge injections of EPO made an important contribution to combating anaemia discovered back in the eighties that EPO injections bring very minimal improvements to the performance of endurance athletes. EPO only works if you give athletes heavy doses of iron supplements as well. If the Americans had done this with their subjects, the results of their study would probably have been different.

We repeat, eight grams of Echinacea is a high dose. Endurance sports-blogger Carson Boddicker is not entirely convinced of the safety of a mega dose of these proportions. [] Some studies, especially those in which children were given Echinacea supplements, report allergic reactions. Children sometimes get skin rashes from Echinacea, and adults sometimes get short-lived flu-like symptoms.

The effect of Echinacea is only temporary: by day 28 of the supplements course, the athletes' EPO level had gone down. It would seem that long-term use of Echinacea is unlikely to be of much use to endurance athletes.

The research was financed by the supplement manufacturer Puritan's Pride, which also makes supplements containing Echinacea.

Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2007 Aug;17(4):378-90.