Forget the Echinacea


Category : General, Medical Rants

Study Says Echinacea Has No Effect on Colds

Long time readers know my disdain for “alternative” therapies. I want data. These therapies are rarely benign, so I want to know not believe.

This study debunks the claim the Echinacea helps colds.

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.

Some researchers say still further investigation is needed, with stronger doses and with echinacea species and preparations different from those used in this study. But Dr. Stephen E. Straus, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the government agency that sponsored the new research, says he for one is satisfied that echinacea is not an effective cold remedy.

As Queen sang – another bites the dust!

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Comments (2)

This is another study that effectively has demolished claims for just one of many herbal supplements touted to be effective for specific ailments. It’s a strong argument on why the government ought to insist on stricter standards before allowing untested products peddled as supplements rather than drugs.

The fact they are not labeled as drugs should not be a reason for unscrupulous manufacturers to continue to fool the public. When we consider that more Americans visit so-called alternative practitioners than primary care physicians, at least according to a report in 1997, it’s not hard to imagine how millions of dollars are being wasted on useless products, never mind the possible harm that they can inflict.

The FDA has repeatedly told us one of its top priorities is to make sure drugs approved for use after intensive clinical trials are effective and safe. Why not revise current laws to cover similarly the hundreds of “supplements” now being sold to guarantee their safety and efficacy?

It’s time to stop the hypocrisy and to demand more transparency from alternative medicine and its many unscientific practices.

While I am ambivalent regarding the efficacy of Echinacea in the treatment of the common cold, according to an interview on NPR this test used a much lower dose than what manufacturers recommend, and the researchers involved merely dismiss this criticism without addressing it adequately.

Echinacea, in my opinion, is probably useless in treating colds, but if someone is going to the effort of debunking something, they really should have caught a problem like this in the protocol beforehand.

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