Although colds and respiratory disorders are common illnesses, there is no quick and easy treatment for these conditions. As a result, there has been growing interest in the use of the herb Echinacea as a potential method for prevention and faster recovery. The growing interest has also brought great controversy surrounding Echinacea and its efficacy as a remedy for colds and other respiratory illnesses.
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With the possibility that Echinacea has for preventing the cold and flu as well as treating symptoms associated with these illnesses, it is not surprising that Echinacea is one of the most popular herbs in America . Nevertheless, great controversy still remains as to whether Echinacea is actually an effective cold and flu remedy. The debate surrounding the consumption of Echinacea brings a few considerations to light.
The debate still remains as to whether Echinacea can help in preventing and treating colds. Here is a quick overview of the latest research concerning the use of Echinacea for colds and other respiratory disorders:
- Safety and Efficacy Profile of Echinacea purpurea to Prevent Common Cold Episodes: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial 
- Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012
- After a 4-month investigation of the safety and efficacy of Echinacea with 755 subjects either given the supplement or placebo, the researchers concluded that Echinacea inhibited virally confirmed colds and showed maximal effects on recurrent infections. Additionally, the scientists demonstrated that Echinacea use was as safe as placebo use.
- Read more about the study at Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
- Placebo Effects and the Common Cold: A Randomized Controlled Trial 
- Annals of Family Medicine, 2011
- From the study of 719 randomized study participants, the researchers found that the group of individuals “who believed in Echinacea and received pills, illnesses were substantively shorter and less severe [than the no-pill group], regardless of whether the pills contained Echinacea.”
- Read more about the study at Annals of Family Medicine.
- The effectiveness of a standardized Echinacea preparation in preventing colds, flus and other respiratory disorders for air-travellers 
- Thieme: Planta Medica, 2010
- After conducting a randomized, double-blind placebo controlled clinical trail with 183 participants, researchers from Griffith University’s School of Pharmacy at Australia found that the group given Echinacea tablets reported a significantly lower number of respiratory illnesses compared to the placebo group.
- Read more about the study at Annals of Family Medicine.
- Review Article: The multiple actions of the phytomedicine Echinacea in the treatment of colds and flu 
- Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, 2010
- In a literature review, the authors concluded that “certain Echinacea extracts could provide multiple benefits to cold and flu sufferers, such as inactivation of the viruses, inactivation of certain pathogenic respiratory bacteria, and reversal of the pro-inflammatory responses induced by cold and flu agents.”
- Read more about the review article at Journal of Medicinal Plants Research.
- Echinacea for Treating the Common Cold. A Randomized Trial 
- Annals of Internal Medicine, 2010
- After performing a randomized, placebo controlled trial of 719 patients, the researchers concluded that the cold “illness duration and severity were not statistically significant with Echinacea compared with placebo.” The authors of the research article suggested that their results “do not support the ability of this dose of the Echinacea formulation (10.2 g of dried Echinacea root during the first 24 hours and 5.1 g during each of the next 4 days) to substantively change the course of the common cold.”
- Read more about the study at Annals of Internal Medicine.
Widely popularized as a remedy for cold treatment and prevention, Echinacea has been studied extensively for its effectiveness. Yet, researchers have reported contrasting findings leading to an inconclusive verdict concerning the efficacy of Echinacea use for colds from the perspective of Western biomedicine. Nevertheless, it is instructive to examine the research methods of these studies as an illustration of the current approach of biomedical research and randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in the investigation of herbal medicine.
Unlike standardized Western pharmaceutical drugs, herbal remedies categorized under the same herbal name typically have wide variability in composition based upon the source of plant material, extraction and preparation methods, species of the herb, and other factors. Consequently, differences in herbal compositions could be a variable responsible for inconsistent findings among different studies.
In a review of 16 RCTs concerning Echinacea research for preventing and treating the common cold, the authors found that nine studies reported a significant difference between Echinacea users compared with the placebo group. However, the authors also highlighted that Echinacea preparations examined in each clinical trial differed greatly and discovered evidence pointing towards the effectiveness of aerial parts of Echinacea for early cold treatment in adults . This situation clearly emphasizes the importance of recognizing that how herbal remedies are prepared and administered can greatly impact experimental results.
- NIH: Herbs at a Glance - Echinacea
- Mayo Clinic: Echinacea
- University of Maryland Medical System: Echinacea
- Echinacea. University of Maryland Medical Center. Accessed at http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/echinacea on September 9, 2013.
- Jawad, M., et al. Safety and Efficacy Profile of Echinacea purpurea to Prevent Common Cold Episodes: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012
- Barrett, B., et al. Placebo Effects and the Common Cold: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Annals of Family Medicine. 2011.
- Tiralongo, E., et al. The effectiveness of a standardized Echinacea preparation in preventing colds, flus and other respiratory disorders for air-travellers. Planta Med. 2010.
- Hudson, J.B. The multiple actions of the phytomedicine Echinacea in the treatment of colds and flu. J Medicinal Plants. 2010.
- Barrett, B., et al. Echinacea for Treating the Common Cold. A Randomized Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2010.
- Linde, K.,et al. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2009.