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Does Echinacea Help Relieve Colds?

Millions of Americans use the herb echinacea, derived from the purple coneflower, to prevent or treat colds, but a new study found it neither prevented colds nor eased cold symptoms.

The study 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. After five days, researchers 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
  • They made no more interleukin-8 (some had hypothesized that interleukin-8 was stimulated by echinacea, enabling the herb to stop colds)

    Some researchers say still further investigation is needed, with stronger doses and with echinacea species and preparations different from those used in this study. While the herb is generally safe, some people are allergic to it, which brings up an important point.

    Just because the supplement you are taking is natural, doesn't mean it's necessarily safe or good for you. While herbs are generally far safer (and less expensive) than drugs, they are still not addressing the underlying cause of the problem, which is what you ultimately need to look at. In the case of colds, the more common contributing factors are:

    1. Eating too much sugar and too many grains
    2. Not getting enough rest
    3. Using insufficient strategies to address emotional stressors in your life
    4. Any combination of the above

    The New England Journal of Medicine July 28, 2004; 353:341-34

    The New York Times July 28, 2005

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