New Study: The Popular Herb Echinacea May Not Prevent Colds but it Still Works as a Treatment
Austin, Texas -- According to a press release from a college of natural medicine, a new study shows that the popular herb echinacea may not be effective for preventing the common cold in persons who are particularly susceptible to colds. The details of the study are being withheld pending publication this summer. The primary researcher, Carlo Calabrese, ND, MPH, emphasized that published clinical trials on echinacea do show benefit in treating colds, reducing the severity and duration of the symptoms.
In a release dated April 26, 1999 by Bastyr University of Kenmore, Washington, research indicates that echinacea does not prevent the common cold. The news release was based on a clinical trial of a leading echinacea formulation. The study was conducted on 200 people from the Seattle area with a high frequency of recurring symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose, and sinusitis. In this research, the group was divided into two, with one group receiving the herb and the other, an inactive substitute. The subjects kept daily diaries recording their symptoms. Some subjects of the study actually experienced higher frequency and severity of symptoms, but without details of the study, it is not possible to determine whether these cases were statistically significant. The study did not include any conclusions about using the herb to prevent other ailments or of using echinacea to treat already existing symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections or colds.
Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the non-profit American Botanical Council and Adjunct Associate Professor at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Texas at Austin, voiced his concern that in publishing this report, the popular press might misinterpret the implications of the new study. "In this case," he said, "there is no full report, only a press release. Therefore, it is really difficult to evaluate whether the results are meaningful or not".
According to Blumenthal, most people use echinacea as a way to treat colds and flu at the first sign of symptoms. "This news implies what two previous studies have suggested: that echinacea may not prevent a cold, but it does not invalidate other research that documents the effectiveness of echinacea for treating colds," he said.
Echinacea is a native American medicinal plant that was the most widely used medicine of the Plains Indians. It has been one of the top-selling herbs in health food stores for the past four years.
Since the late 1930’s, German researchers have been interested in the immune system stimulating effects of echinacea preparations for treating colds and flu. The Commission E, an expert panel appointed by the German government to evaluate the safety and efficacy of herbal medicines, has approved echinacea as a medicine for treating upper respiratory tract infections, based on clinical research and the experience of many German physicians.
The American Botanical Council is a 10-year old Austin, Texas based, non-profit organization, whose mission is to research, educate, and promote the responsible use of herbal medicines. ABC has recently translated and published The Complete German Commission E Monographs-Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines, which evaluates scientific studies of echinacea and more than 300 other herbal medicines.