MONDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthDay News) -- The herbal remedy echinacea,
believed by many to cure colds, is no better than a placebo in
relieving the symptoms or shortening the duration of illness, a new
"My advice is, if you are an adult and believe in echinacea, it's safe and you might get some placebo effect if nothing else," said lead researcher Dr. Bruce Barrett, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin. "I wouldn't say the results of the trial should dissuade people who are currently using echinacea and feel that it works for them, but there is no new evidence to suggest that we have found the cure for the common cold."
If echinacea was able to significantly reduce the symptoms and
length of colds, this study would have found it, Barrett noted.
"With this particular dose of this particular formulation of
echinacea there was no large benefit," he said.
The report is published in the Dec. 21 issue of the
Annals of Internal Medicine.
In the study, Barrett's team randomly assigned 719 people with
colds to no treatment, to a pill they knew was echinacea, or to a
pill that could either be a placebo or echinacea, but they were not
told which. The participants ranged from 12 to 80 years of age.
People in the study, which was funded by the U.S. National
Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (part of the
National Institutes of Health), reported their symptoms twice a day
for about a week. Among those receiving echinacea, symptoms
subsided seven to 10 hours sooner than those receiving placebo or
no treatment. This represented a "small beneficial effect in
persons with the common cold," according to the study. However,
this slight decrease in the duration of their colds was not
statistically significant, Barrett said.
There was also no statistically significant difference in the
severity of symptoms between the groups, he added.
Douglas "Duffy" MacKay, vice president for scientific and
regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a
lobbying group for the supplement industry, said that "the cure for
the common cold has been an elusive target of the medical community
for decades. Unfortunately, the best available treatments for this
self-limiting condition are modestly effective."
Although this study did not show that echinacea made much of a
difference in fighting colds, the study was limited by its size and
method of reporting results, MacKay said. "Had a larger sample size
been available, it's quite possible the investigators would have
observed statistically significant effects," he said.
While the study did not provide evidence that echinacea is the
cure for the common cold, the evidence suggests that echinacea use
should be "guided by personal health values," MacKay said.
"Consumers can also be reassured by the strong evidence of safety for echinacea," he said. The totality of evidence suggests that echinacea may shorten the duration of a cold while providing moderate symptomatic relief. This magnitude of benefit is comparable to other choices consumers have when grappling with this common and self-limiting condition."
For more information on colds, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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