Meta-analysis finds echinacea effective for cold prevention and treatment
A review published in the July, 2007 issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases concluded that echinacea, an herb commonly used to help prevent and treat the common cold, is effective at both reducing cold incidence and duration. Although the herb has been the subject of controversial study findings, millions of people continue to rely on echinacea to help protect them during cold and flu season.
For the meta-analysis, researchers at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, and Hartford Hospital, also in Connecticut, selected 14 randomized, placebo-controlled trials which evaluated the effect of echinacea on cold incidence among a total of 1,356 participants, and its effect on cold duration in 1,630 subjects. The studies selected examined the effects of Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida.
The analysis found that echinacea use reduced the risk of contracting a cold by 58 percent, and decreased cold duration by an average of 1.4 days. Subgroup analyses examining a specific brand of echinacea, concomitant supplement use, method of cold exposure, and other factors continued to demonstrate a protective effect. (The one study that combined echinacea with other supplements found an 86 percent reduction in cold incidence.)
All three species of echinacea contain water-soluble polysaccharides, a lipophilic fraction, caffeoyl conjugates, and flavonoids. However, it is not known which compound or compounds are responsible for echinacea’s ability to stimulate immune function.
“An analysis of the current evidence in the literature suggests that echinacea has a benefit in decreasing the incidence and duration of the common cold; however large-scale randomized prospective studies controlling for variables such as species, quality of preparation and dose of ecinacea, method of cold induction, and objectivity of study endpoints evaluated are needed before echinacea for the prevention or treatment of the common cold can become standard practice,” the authors conclude.
Although there is no cure for the common cold, patients should be proactive even before symptoms first appear to prevent infection, recover more quickly, reduce the severity of symptoms, and prevent the spread of the contagion. Frequent hand-washing and use of facial tissues with antiviral agents will help prevent the spread of the infection.
A number of nutrients should also be considered, beginning when symptoms first appear, or when exposure to cold viruses is elevated (for example, when a member of the household is sick). These nutrients include:
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Echinacea is known for its ability to stimulate the body’s immune system, helping it to ward off infectious agents. Several clinical trials have shown echinacea to be effective, especially if taken at the first signs of an illness.
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