Echinacea: why wait?


Dr. Jen Tan
@AVogelUK


23 October 2013

The benefits of preventative action

Society today is all about immediate gratification and instant everything, and this often seems a shame. There’s one area of life, however, where there is really no point in waiting – health.

Why wait until you have a cold or flu bug? Why not help reduce your chances of getting one?  True, cure is pretty good if you’ve already fallen prey to a beastly bug; but surely prevention is always the better option. 

Does Echinacea work preventatively?

In the UK, the Department of Health allows the indication ‘relief of symptoms of colds, flu and upper respiratory tract conditions’ for Echinaforce products. Echinaforce drops and tablets work by supporting the immune system and this is what we are allowed to say on our packaging.

We are, however, often asked, in general terms, about using the herb Echinacea preventatively and our honest answer is that there is definitely evidence to support this. This is one of the ways the herb Echinacea has been used for centuries, and Alfred Vogel himself used it daily into his healthy nineties, and never had the bother of a cold. 

So long as you aren’t allergic to Echinacea, or taking immunosuppressant medication, or in the grip of some disease that affects immune cells, there’s not much to worry about (although obviously, always read any leaflets that come with Echinacea products – they’re there to help).

In other countries Echinaforce is licensed and recommended for prevention. For example, in Switzerland the indication for the A.Vogel product is ‘susceptibility to colds’, and ‘enhancing the body’s defence system against colds and feverish colds’, as well as ‘encouraging the healing process with colds’.

In addition, the European Medicine Agency, in their Herbal Medicinal Products Committee report, acknowledges that Echinacea purpurea has well-established use for the short-term prevention and treatment of common cold

Is there any research to back this up?

The most recent research into Echinacea backs up the prevention indication. 

  • In 2006 a meta-analysis (a study that summarises many previous trials) concluded that the use of Echinacea is effective in the prevention of the symptoms of the common cold. The researchers found that those using Echinacea were less likely to develop colds when compared to placebo, reducing the incidence by about half.1
  • Another study published in 2006 found that 71% of athletes undertaking sports training remained free of cold episodes over the 2-month trial period when taking Echinacea. (Intensive physical exercise often lowers immune function in athletes.)2
  • In 2007 researchers who looked at 14 different studies on Echinacea found that overall, Echinacea was shown to decrease the odds of developing a cold by 58%, as well as reducing the duration of colds by a day-and-a-half in people who were infected.3
  • In 2015 research showed that Echinacea reduces the risk of recurrent respiratory tract infections and complications.4
  • Laboratory research has shown that Echinacea has antiviral and antibacterial activity and that Echinacea can kill pathogens before they infect body cells.5

Some fascinating research in 2011 showed that people with high stress levels and those prone to frequent colds gained most from taking Echinacea – its activity was seen to be greater in these groups of people. Additionally, Echinacea was seen to increase the activity of the immune system in people with low immune function, but to have no effect where immune function was satisfactory. In other words, it is capable of acting differently depending on the immune status of the person taking it, thus avoiding the possibility of over-stimulating the immune system.6

In 2012 the results of the largest and longest clinical trial ever carried out on Echinacea were published by the Cardiff Common Cold Centre.7 The conclusions were extremely interesting: 

1. Echinacea reduces the development of recurrent colds by 59%

2. Echinacea also reduces the symptoms of cold episodes, reducing the need for painkilling medication by 52%

3. Those most at risk – those prone to more than 2 colds per year; those with high stress levels; smokers; and poor sleepers – benefited most from Echinacea 

4. The safety profile of Echinacea when taken daily over a 4-month period was extremely good

To back this up, a 2016 study8 concluded that there is no evidence to support limitations on the duration of therapy with Echinacea.

So, taking Echinacea for the prevention of colds and flu is well supported by science, and is an important part of any strategy to avoid cold and flu misery! 

References

[1] Schoop R et al. Clinical Therapeutics. 2006; 1: 10

[2] Schoop R et al. Adv Ther 2006; 23 (5): 823-33

[3] Shah SA et al. The Lancet Infectious Diseases 2007; 7 (7): 473 – 480

[4] Schapowal A, Klein P, Johnston SL. Adv Ther. 2015; 32 (2): 187-200

[5] Sharma M et al. Antiviral Research 2009; 83: 165-170. Sharma SM et al. Phytomedicine 2010; 17 (8-9): 563-8

[6] Ritchie MR et al. Phytomedicine 2011; 18: 826-831

[7] Jawad M et al. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012; doi 10.1155/2012/841315

[8] Ardjomand-Woelkart K, Bauer R. Planta Med 2016; 82 (1-2): 17-31

2 Comments

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  • Vivian's photo avatar
    Vivian — 21.02.2018 01:40
    Thanks for the info and the links. I am currently wondering whether I should take a daily Echinacea supplement as a preventative for immune health, but was worried about over-stimulation on the immune system. I'll still need to do more research on this matter, but the studies in your article has helped shed some light on my question.

    Reply

  • Gillian Cooper's photo avatar
    Gillian Cooper — 07.01.2018 15:28
    This is contrary to what I had read elsewhere but I prefer to trust your advice because it has been so helpful so far.

    Reply

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