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Echinacea for the common cold

IHN logo MADISON, WISCONSIN. The common cold and other upper respiratory infections (URIs) are the most frequently occurring acute illnesses in the developed world. It is estimated that the average adult American has two to four colds per year while the average school child in the United States suffers as many as six to ten colds every year. Conventional medical science has little to offer for preventing and treating uncomplicated URIs as most of them are caused by viruses and do not respond to antibiotics. Native Americans used the herb Echinacea to treat a variety of illnesses including URIs at least as early as the middle of the 18th century. Echinacea is also very popular in Europe and is approved in Germany as a herbal drug for treating URIs and urinary tract infections. It is estimated that German physicians write more than three million prescriptions for Echinacea every year. In 1909 an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that Echinacea was "deemed unworthy of future consideration" and since then the herb has not received much attention by North American physicians. This, however, has not prevented Americans from using Echinacea. It is estimated that at least $400 million is spent on this preparation in the United States every year.

Researchers at Bastyr University and the University of Wisconsin have just released the result of a study which concludes that Echinacea is indeed highly effective in the treatment of URIs. The researchers evaluated the results of nine treatment trials and four prevention trials and concluded that taking Echinacea at the first sign of a cold can reduce the severity of the illness by 50 per cent or more and can cut the duration in half. A typical treatment protocol involves taking 20 drops of Echinacea extract every two hours for the first day and then 20 drops three times per day until symptoms are resolved. The researchers did not find any convincing evidence that long- term supplementation prevents URIs and caution that, although Echinacea is generally considered entirely safe, there are no studies which specifically address the safety in regard to infants, children or pregnant women. They conclude that "the evidence suggests Echinacea taken early in the course of an illness may be safe and effective in reducing the severity and duration of the common cold."
Barrett, Bruce, et al. Echinacea for upper respiratory infection. Journal of Family Practice, Vol. 48, August 1999, pp. 628- 35

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