July 28, 2005
Millions of people take the herbal remedy Echinacea to treat the common cold, but does it really work? A new study says it doesn't.
Whenever Michelle Joubert feels a cold coming on she takes the herbal remedy Echinacea.
"I've been taking Echinacea for about a year or so, and I find that I'm not as sick, and I recover faster from illnesses," said Michelle Joubert.
Michelle is far from alone. Millions of people take Echinacea in the hope of preventing or treating a cold, but does the extract of the flower really work? Not according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study was done with the help of doctors at UVA Medical Center. Scientists used a common form of Echinacea called Angustifolia on over 400 patients, with disappointing results.
"Echinacea had no effect on infection, so the volunteers that took Echinacea, regardless of which preparation they took, got infected at the same rate as the volunteers who took the placebo medication," said Dr. Ronald Turner of the UVA Medical Center.
The herb didn't have any effect on treating cold symptoms either.
The findings are a surprise to many including the Cleveland Clinic's doctor Tanya Edwards. Not only does she give Echinacea to her patients, she uses it herself.
"It could be that maybe Echinacea by itself doesn't do that great of a job and maybe we shouldn't be telling people to use it alone," said Edwards.
But Mount Sinai's Dr. Mary Jo Dimilia, who also uses the herb, believes there is a problem with the study. She says the dosage given was too low to be effective.
"They used 300 milligrams 3 times a day and we usually recommend 900 milligrams minimum 3 times a day," said Dimilia.
So does Echinacea work or not?
"No, I won't change my opinion [about it]. I'll still take it, "said Joubert.
One other note about Echinacea, it is still considered a 'safe' herd--allergic or adverse reactions are still very rare for those that use it.