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July 29, 2005

Echinacea ineffective

A new study has found that taking echinacea to treat a cold is ineffective.

Echinacea, the herbal supplement made from purple coneflower and used by millions of Americans to prevent or treat colds, neither prevented colds nor eased cold symptoms in a large and rigorous study.

The study, being published today in The New England Journal of Medicine, involved 437 people who volunteered to have cold viruses dripped into their noses. Some swallowed echinacea for a week beforehand, others a placebo. Still others took echinacea or a placebo at the time they were infected.

Then the subjects were secluded in hotel rooms for five days while scientists examined them for symptoms and took nasal washings to look for the virus and for an immune system protein, interleukin-8. Some had hypothesized that interleukin-8 was stimulated by echinacea, enabling the herb to stop colds.

But the investigators found that those who took echinacea fared no differently from those who took a placebo: they were just as likely to catch a cold, their symptoms were just as severe, they had just as much virus in their nasal secretions, and they made no more interleukin-8.

When I was looking for a good link for this story, I searched for "echinacea" on the BBC News web site and came up with these: Echinacea 'does not treat colds' (which ran on December 3, 2003); and Echinacea 'does not cure colds' (which ran on December 18, 2002)! I also found this: Herbal remedies may reduce fertility. (which ran on February 23, 1999).

So, that's now 3 studies that say it doesn't work and 1 study that says it may reduce fertility. Not that this will stop most people who would take it, of course, but maybe a few will think twice before doing so.

Link: Study Says Echinacea Has No Effect on Colds.

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July 29, 2005 in Health and Alternative Medicine | Permalink


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