Cure for the common cold? That would be a welcome discovery by just about everyone. If you’ve searched for a cure, you probably have come across echinacea, a common herb that has been claimed to stimulate the immune system and prevent or shorten the duration of colds. But, as with many herbal solutions, it’s prudent for us to ask: how valid are these claims?
What is echinacea?
It’s a group of nine flowering plants that grow naturally in the U.S. and Southern Canada. One species, Echinacea purpurea is considered to have the strongest effect on the immune system.
The research on whether or not echinacea actually helps prevent or shorten a cold is somewhat mixed, but most of it supports this claim. A team from the University of Connecticut analyzed the results of 14 separate studies, which was one of the largest studies that had results in favor of echinacea. Compared to no treatment, the participants that were treated with echinacea had an almost 60 percent reduction in the initiation of the common cold and a 1.5 day reduction of the duration of the cold. It also seems that echinacea might also be helpful for children. Another study that a liquid form of Echinacea purpurea liquid or a placebo liquid in 401 children found that children who took echinacea after having an upper respiratory tract infection (URI) were about 30 percent less likely to develop a subsequent URI.
The studies that have been done have used echinacea in the form of tablets, liquid drops and tea, all to promising results. tea at the first sign of cold symptoms recovered two days earlier than those who drank the control tea. They drank five to six cups of the tea on the first day and reduced their intake by 1 cup each day for the next five days.
However, not all the research on echinacea and colds supports the claim. One study with 719 participants who either took an echinacea tablet or a placebo tablet for early treatment of a cold found only a half day reduction in the cold duration in the echinacea group compared to placebo.
While we can’t say conclusively that echinacea will help prevent or treat your cold this winter season, it may help. If you choose to give it a try, keep in mind some notes of caution.
- Stick to the suggested dosage. With herbs as with traditional medicine, just because some works, doesn’t mean more is better.
- Since echinacea is part of the daisy family of plants, people allergic to any plant in this family (ragweed, marigold, daisies, chrysanthemums) might also have an allergic reaction to echinacea.
- Those with asthma or atopy should use caution, as there is a greater tendency towards allergies in general.
- Check with your pharmacist about the use of echinacea if you are taking any other medications to be certain that there are no adverse interactions.
If you’re suffering from a cold, make sure to get enough rest. Zinc lozenges might work, but the results are also inconclusive. And your mom’s old chicken soup remedy might also help. Hope you feel better!