Is Echinacea an Effective Cold Remedy?

Echinacea is a savior to some and a hoax to others. We look into this controversial natural cold remedy

Many people use echinacea to treat a cold, but questions remain about its effectiveness

During cold season, many people turn to echinacea supplements to help them get over respiratory tract infections.

Taken at the first sign of a cold, echinacea (purple coneflower) may activate chemicals in the body that stimulate the immune system and decrease inflammation, thereby reducing cold and flu symptoms, although scientific findings on the herb’s effectiveness remain mixed.

Does Echinacea Really Work?

An analysis of 14 studies published in Lancet Infectious Diseases in 2007 found that not only did echinacea reduce the odds of developing a cold by 58%, it also cut the duration of a cold by 1.4 days. Another analysis involving 16 clinical trials found that although echinacea might help prevent and treat colds, results are inconsistent. Research is ongoing.

In the meantime, buyer beware. Products labelled “echinacea” vary tremendously. Some remedies are made using the plant’s roots, while others use its leaves and flowers. Extraction methods also vary.

Side Effects of Echinacea

Echinacea is considered safe when used short-term, but information is lacking on the safety of long-term use. Side-effects include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea, sore throat, dry mouth, headache and dizziness. People allergic to plants in the daisy family and people who have asthma are more likely to have an allergic reaction to echinacea.

As with all herbal remedies, consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking echinacea. Herbs sometimes interact with pharmaceutical drugs, which is why it’s important to talk to the experts.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.