Natural Remedies - Echinacea

Echinacea is a widely used herbal remedy for the common cold. It is a root that was commonly used by North American Indians to treat a variety of infections. Since the late 1800's, echinacea preparations were used as remedies for the common cold. Echinacea has three species, each with different properties, that are used for medicinal purposes. The composition of the extract may also vary depending on the method used to extract the material, as well as the geographic location and the time of the year the plant is harvested.

In a study of echinacea, published the the New England Journal of Medicine (v 353, p 342, 2005)healthy volunteers were recruited from the University of Virginia community and infected with a cold virus. Six different groups, numbering 69 to 84 volunteers (each) were given prophylactic echinacea (or a placebo) for 7 days until the infection time, then they were isolated in individual hotel rooms, and continued treatment with different echinacea preparations (and placebo). The participants rated their cold symptoms (such as sneezing, congestion, throat ache, general malaise, etc.) on a scale of 0 to 4, depending on their severity. There were two questions to be answered. First, did echinacea have some prophylactic effectiveness, preventing the contraction of a cold? Second, having contracted a cold, were the symptoms lighter (per the cold score rating) for those who took echinacea, compared to a placebo?

The simple answer to both questions is "no"! The infection rate for any of the echinacea extractions was the same (within statistical significance limits) as that of the placebo takers. Likewise, none of the different extracted echinacea types made any difference to the severity of the cold symptoms. The authors conclude by stating that "the burden of proof [of echinacea's effectiveness] should lie with those who advocate the treatment".

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Last Modification - March 4, 2006