Can echinacea really prevent colds?

Can echinacea really prevent colds?

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Tanya Edwards, M.D.
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Tanya Edwards, M.D.

A family physician, Dr. Tanya Edwards is passionate about using nutrition for the prevention and treatment of chronic illness.  She... Read more

There are conflicting studies in the medical literature about the effectiveness of echinacea related to treating colds. Many studies involving a small number of participants have shown that this herb is very helpful for preventing the worsening of cold symptoms once the symptoms have started. In the first hours after taking echinacea, it revs up the production of immune system cells that are effective in fighting off viruses. But a relatively large study that was done a few years ago showed echinacea was no better than a placebo.

 

A member of the daisy family, echinacea, also known as purple coneflower, has been used by Native Americans for centuries as part of their healing practices. It grows just about everywhere in North America; both the herb (aboveground parts) and the root are used. Given that there were studies showing that echinacea was good, I’ve been using it myself, as well as recommending it to my patients, family and children. I believe that it really does lesson cold symptoms.

 

Echinacea is commercially available as expressed juice, extract, tincture and tea. But I typically recommend taking it in capsule form so you know precisely how much you’re getting. Immediately following the onset of cold symptoms, begin taking 500 milligrams three times a day for five to seven days (or less if symptoms resolve sooner). Don’t take echinacea longer than 10 days since the effects start to decline, and the herb may even have the opposite effect by decreasing your immune function. And if you have an autoimmune disease, don’t take echinacea. Theoretically, use of this herb could exacerbate symptoms of the disease. Those with a severe ragweed allergy should also avoid echinacea, since it may cause a similar type of allergic reaction.

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