Can Echinacea Really Stifle Your Sniffles?

4 min read

woman drinking echinacea tea

By John Wood

In December 2010, CNN ran a story with the title “Echinacea fails to cure the common cold (again).

In the first paragraph, they state that if you are expecting echinacea to fight a cold, you might want to skip it and save a few bucks.

... because echinacea supposedly has no value for colds, you might incorrectly assume that echinacea has no health benefits whatsoever.

A natural reaction by anyone reading this headline at the time may have been to think, “OK, that’s it – no more echinacea for me.” And because echinacea supposedly has no value for colds, you might incorrectly assume that echinacea has no health benefits whatsoever.

However, if you take a closer look at the study, the authors indicate that a week-long cold was reduced by a half day (approximately 10%) when taking echinacea. They go on to say it is possible that the reduction might be a full 24 hours (a 20% reduction), which “might be accepted as clinically significant by many or most cold-sufferers.”

The “again” part in the above CNN headline is most likely referring to a 2006 study that concluded that there appeared to be no evidence that echinacea could prevent colds.

In a 2014 YouTube video, Dr. Andrew Rubman, ND, Director of Connecticut’s Southbury Clinic, is asked about “a major study from about 10 years ago” (the study is not mentioned by name but time-wise it appears to be a reference to the 2006 study). He said “they were extracting the whole plant, when the root has the active principle in it. So, therefore, the amount of active component was dramatically diluted from what one would expect in a therapeutic product.”

Sure enough, when you look at the results of the trial it points out that “Evidence from more than one trial was available only for preparations based on the aerial parts of Echinacea purpurea ....” (The “aerial part” refers to the stems, leaves, and flowers — not the root.)

If anything, the above demonstrates just how difficult it is to weed through the various studies of echinacea (and any natural product used for medicinal purposes) and come to a definitive conclusion. The variables that make it difficult are things such as the strain and part of the plant studied, the preparation methods used, the study participants, and how many participate, the time frame covered, and so on.

... echinacea 'is one of the things that works most of the time for most people.' – Dr. Andrew Rubman, naturopathic physician

Having said that, let’s look at the scientific evidence available when it comes to whether echinacea is effective in curbing colds. This popular herbal supplement:

  • was responsible for a 55% cold reduction. A 2006 study called Echinacea in the Prevention of Induced Rhinovirus Colds: A Meta-Analysis found that “the likelihood of experiencing a clinical cold was 55% higher with the placebo than with echinacea.”

  • boosted the number of natural killer cellsWhite blood cells are a key part of the immune system. They attack and destroy harmful bacteria and viruses. A 2005 study published on ResearchGate found that echinacea increased the number of white blood cells in 11 individuals ranging in age from 26 to 61. A 2003 study concluded that echinacea boosted the total white blood cell count in aging male Sprague-Dawley rats. (Rats are used in scientific research because they are remarkably similar to people genetically.)

Echinacea is a preferred cold remedy by many because it’s a natural solution. OTC (over-the-counter) cold remedies all come with a certain amount of risk. For instance, decongestants (e.g., Sudafed, Neo-Synephrine), although they can provide relief, are stimulants that may increase your heart rate, make it hard to sleep, and cause anxiety. Acetaminophens (e.g., Tylenol), if taken in excess, can damage the liver. Antihistamines (e.g., Benadryl, Unisom Sleep Gels) can make you groggy and confused. Studies have not shown echinacea to be toxic (although it is not recommended for small children, people taking immunosuppressive drugs and pregnant and nursing women). It is worth noting that while antibiotics are often prescribed for colds and the flu, they don’t work. Antibiotics only fight bacteria, not viruses.The rhinovirus  and coronaviruses are the most common causes of colds; influenza viruses cause the flu.

Echinacea has been used for hundreds of years by indigenous people as an herbal remedy. And although anecdotal evidence is not scientifically valid (unless it is part of a study), there is plenty such evidence online and elsewhere that echinacea has some medicinal benefits. As Dr. Andrew Rubman said in the above referenced video, echinacea “is one of the things that works most of the time for most people.”

That kind of endorsement is why we include 90 mg. of echinacea in every capsule of our Trimmunity Multi-System Immune Support capsules – along with other potent nutritional supplements like Vitamins C & D and elderberry extract, used traditionally to bolster immunity and fight off seasonal respiratory illnesses. Try some today risk-free!

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