- Some medicinal preparations of the herb Echinacea may reduce the incidence of the common cold, but evidence is weak.
- Echinacea supplements vary greatly in species and part of the plant used and methods of manufacture.
For people seeking a natural treatment for the common cold, some preparations containing the plant Echinacea work better than nothing, yet “evidence is weak,” finds a new report from The Cochrane Library. The evidence review revealed no significant reductions in preventing illness, but didn’t rule out “small preventive effects.”
The six authors conducted reviews on this subject in 1998, 2006 and 2008 and wanted to do an update to include several new trials conducted since then. “We’ve been doing this for so long and are very familiar with past research—which has been mixed from the very beginning,” said author Bruce Barrett, M.D., Ph.D. in the department of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
The research team reviewed 24 randomized controlled trials to determine whether Echinacea was a safe and effective cold prevention and treatment. Trials included 4631 participants and 33 preparations, along with placebo. Echinacea products studied in these trials varied widely according to characteristics of three different plant species, the part of the plant used and method of manufacturing.
People who get colds spend $8 billion annually on pharmaceutical products, including supplements such as Echinacea, Barrett noted. The authors’ meta-analyses suggest that at least some Echinacea preparations may reduce the relative risk of catching a cold by 10 to 20 percent, a small effect of unclear clinical significance. The most important recommendation from the review for consumers and clinicians is a caution that Echinacea products differ greatly and that the overwhelming majority of these products have not been tested in clinical trials.
Barrett added that “it looks like taking Echinacea may reduce the incidence of colds. For those who take it as a treatment, some of the trials report real effects—but many do not. Bottom line: Echinacea may have small preventive or treatment effects, but the evidence is mixed.”
“The paper does support the safety and efficacy of Echinacea in treating colds and highlights the main issue of standardizing herbal medicines,” commented Ron Eccles, Ph.D., director of the Common Cold Centre & Healthcare Clinical Trials at Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences in Wales.
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The Cochrane Collaboration is a global independent network of researchers, health professionals and consumers of healthcare; carers, advocates and people interested in health. It responds to the challenge of making the vast amounts of evidence generated through research useful for informing decisions about health. Cochrane is a not-for profit organisation with collaborators from over 120 countries working together to produce credible, accessible health information that is free from commercial sponsorship and other conflicts of interest and is considered the gold standard for determining the relative effectiveness of different interventions. Visit the Cochrane Library at http://www.thecochranelibrary.com
Karsch-Völk M, Barrett B, Kiefer D, Bauer R, Ardjomand-Woelkart K, Linde K. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD000530. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000530.pub3.