By JENNY HOPE
June 25, 2007
It's true - echinacea can relieve those pesky cold symptoms
It is the herbal remedy which millions swear by every winter for warding off the sniffles.
And while some have doubted if echinacea is effective at combating colds, scientists have now said that it really does work.
A review shows that taking supplements of the plant, also known as purple coneflower, can cut the chances of catching a cold by more than half.
When used as a treatment it reduces the length of a cold by one-and-a-half days on average, according to research published today by U.S. researchers in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.
The review, which combines the results of 14 previous studies, should finally give the seal of approval to the remedy.
Doubts over its efficacy led Dr Craig Coleman and colleagues at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy to analyse clinical trials using echinacea for prevention or treatment of colds. They found it cut the chances of catching a cold by 58 per cent on average, including in studies where volunteers were exposed to cold viruses under laboratory conditions.
It was even more effective when used in real life "natural" settings, cutting the risk by 65 per cent. Overall, it cut the duration of a cold by 1.4 days among those using it as a treatment.
The length of time for which it was used ranged from a few days to several weeks. Only one of the studies combined echinacea with vitamin C, which showed the two together reduced the incidence of colds by 86 per cent. But the researchers could not definitely conclude whether the two supplements combined are more effective than echinacea alone.
There are three common species of echinacea recognised for their medicinal value. These are the flower, stem and root of Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida and Echinacea purpurea, with the latter most often used in herbal remedies bought over the counter. The flower was originally used by native Americans to heal wounds.
Dr Ann Walker, senior lecturer at Reading University and a director of the British Herbal Medicine Association, said echinacea has anti-inflammatory properties and is safe to use.
She said: "Traditional remedies attract a great deal of criticism so it's rewarding to see a scientific assessment that shows echinacea works, which is the reason for its continued popularity."
Professor Ron Cutler, of the School of Biosciences at the University of East London, said: "How the agents work remains unclear and further clinical trials still have to be carried out."