Can Echinacea Help and Prevent Colds?
It was interesting to me that only two years ago, after a couple of decades of research, scientists writing for the prestigious Cochrane Database concluded that there is not enough evidence to declare that the herb Echinacea (Eh-kin-ay-shuh) can prevent colds, but the researchers did say it may help symptoms in the early stages of a cold.
However, by last year a study by scientists at the University of Connecticut found that Echinacea not only reduces the length of a cold by 1.4 days, but that it may help prevent a cold more than 50% of the time! If confirmed by further research, this news of research on human volunteers subjected to rhinoviruses is especially stunning, given that there are presently no pharmaceuticals on the market that can make such a claim.
There is a long trail of European medical research suggesting that Echinacea may be a potent immune system booster, and that evidence is growing.
For example, studies came out suggesting that although there is a large difference in the effectiveness of different brands of Echinacea found on the market, E. purpurea extracts stimulated production of several important elements of our body’s defenses (e.g., interleukin 6 and 12, tumor necrosis factor, and nitrous oxide). In one study it was shown that the presence of lipoproteins and lipopolysaccharides (e.g. the antibiotic polymyxin B) negated the immune enhancing effects of Echinacea. Another study revealed that test tube research, as well as research on mice, demonstrates that Echinacea enhances macrophage (i.e., white blood cells) activity, so our body can produce antibodies that fight a variety of germs and invaders, and not merely the rhinoviruses associated with the common cold.
Unfortunately, there is bad news as well. Products available under the term Echinacea differ considerably in composition, due to variable plant material, extraction methods, and additives. Good research on Echinacea has come from Europe, where pharmaceutical companies fund research, adhere to strict quality control measures, and profit from sale of herbs. In contrast in the US, quality control is a problem since the FDA lacks oversight, pharmaceutical companies cannot exclusively market herbs here, and cannot reap the profits necessary to fund research, as they can with medicines. We overcome the quality control issue by distributing products produced in labs that employ biochemists who apply strict quality control procedures to the manufacturing process.
While there are few complications, the European Medicines Agency advised in May 2008 that Echinacea should not be used in cases of certain systemic, autoimmune, and diseases of the white blood cell system, nor by children under the age of one (1), due to lack of research in this age group. Use during pregnancy and lactation is not recommended unless advised by a doctor, due to lack of epidemiological data (however, limited data on several hundreds of exposed pregnancies indicate no adverse effects on the mother or the fetus or newborn child). Further, due to possible severe reactions, atopic patients should consult their doctor before using Echinacea.
In addition, the Agency provides the following guidelines: a) the product should be used at the first sign of a cold, and only for 10 days continuously, b) for children 12 and older, adults and elderly, from 6 to 9 ml per day or the dry equivalent is recommended, in from 2 to 4 doses, and c) if symptoms persist beyond 10 days, a doctor or pharmacist should be consulted.
So, for the first time in modern medical history, there is now evidence that there is something we can actually do to prevent and treat the common cold. Good news as we jump into cold and flu season. And speaking of flu, remember to check with your medical doctor about a flu shot, especially if you are in an at risk population. Maintain your physical activity, good nutrition, rest, and maintenance chiropractic care during these cold months, to maintain optimal health and lower disability!
Have a Healthy and Merry Christmas
Dr. Robert Leach
The latest 2008 research demonstrating that Echinacea extracts can stimulate innate immune responses
This study found out that there was a lot of variability between Echinacea products
The Cochrane review indicated some Echinacea may be effective during the early stages of a cold, but that preparations vary in terms of effectiveness
Review an article describing research that concluded Echinacea can reduce the odds of catching a cold by more than 50%, and reduce the length of cold symptoms by more than a day:
The current 2008 guidelines of the European Medicines Agency, an arm of the European Union, regarding the clinical usage of Echinacea for cold prevention and treatment:
Dr. Robert Leach & Staff