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Before You Buy Echinacea: Will It Help With the Common Cold?

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Updated May 05, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Echinacea is one of the most popular herbs sold in the United States. Many people believe that echinacea helps treat or prevent the common cold. Find out if there is any truth to this belief.

Evidence For

Echinacea has been used for many years to treat and prevent the common cold. It is one of the most popular herbal remedies sold in the United States. Complementary and alternative medicine practitioners have long touted it's efficacy and use it frequently to help their patients. Many different parts of the echinacea plant may be used - the root, stem, flower, leaves or different species. Several studies have found that the use of echinacea does help to prevent or shorten the duration of the common cold. However, most of these studies were small in size and the results have not been replicated in larger studies.

Evidence Against

One large scale study has been performed to test the efficacy of echinacea to prevent or treat the common cold. This study did not show any significant benefit to using echinacea. Critics of this study - including many practitioners who routinely use alternative medicine - point out that the dose of echinacea that was used in the study was far smaller than what is routinely recommended and a different part of the plant was used. Both of these differences could have contributed to the conflicting results.

Bottom Line

More research is needed to prove whether or not echinacea is effective against the common cold. It remains an extremely popular herbal remedy and will likely continue to grow in popularity as people search for alternatives to conventional medicine.

It is important to remember that just because echinacea is an herbal remedy, it is not without risks. It is thought that echinacea may lead to liver inflammation, so it should not be taken with other medications that can damage the liver (such as Tylenol). Some people have had serious allergic reactions as well. It is not recommended for use in children.

Sources:

"Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia DC, Echinacea pallida, Echinacea purpurea)." Medline Plus Natural Standard Research Collaboration 26 Aug 09. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. 24 Feb 10.

Yale, Steven H. and Liu, Kejian."Echinacea purpurea Therapy for the Treatment of the Common Cold." Arch Intern Med. 2004;164:1237-1241. 24 Feb 10.

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