Echinacea Does the
herbal cold remedy really work?
popular herbal supplement echinacea may have earned its manufacturers
nearly $70 million in 1998, according to industry figures. Yet
the alleged cold remedy is not scientifically proven to be effective
in clinical research trials. To find out if echinacea really fights
colds, a team of Health System
researchers has received $2.2 million from the National Institutes
of Health to conduct a three-year clinical trial.
of the problem surrounding the study of echinacea is that all
of the products containing it are different, said principal
investigator Dr. Ronald B. Turner, a pediatrics professor in the
Division of Infectious Diseases No one has identified an
active factor yet.
variables could influence what in echinacea works and how, Turner
said. The part of the plant used, the growing conditions and season
and how it is processed could all possibly affect its medicinal
value. In addition, the plant has three species each of
which has a different chemical composition that are used
you buy Product X off the shelf today and you go back six months
later and buy the same brand, it may be completely different from
the first thing you bought, Turner said. Echinacea
and other supplements present a huge problem with safety and standardization,
as well as for research, because if you dont know whats
actually in the product, studies on it cant be standardized,
and therefore cannot get consistent results.
study will use one crop of echinacea plants processed using three
different extraction methods to produce three different concentrations.
The composition of the three products has been carefully characterized
in the laboratory of a leading plant chemist at the University
of Graz in Austria, a subcontractor for the study. The three variations
which are identical except for their extraction methods
will be administered to study subjects.
and his research team plan to recruit approximately 450 subjects
for the study. One group of subjects was enrolled in May, and
the next group will be enrolled in October. The volunteers are
infected with a cold virus. One group is given echinacea before
being infected with the cold, and another group receives it after
being infected. Some subjects in each group receive a look-alike
placebo, or inactive medication, instead of the echinacea so they
can be compared with the group receiving the herbal supplement.
of the things we want to find out is whether echinacea has an
effect on viral replication or on the bodys inflammatory
response, Turner said. It may involve a combination
of several factors.
is indigenous to the American Midwest, and was first used for
medicinal purposes by Native Americans, according to ethnobotanists.
White settlers adopted it as a folk remedy, and in the 20th century,
it became popular in Europe.
of echinacea has revived during the past decades herbal
supplement production and sales have boomed in the United States.