Research finds no benefits in echinacea for treatment of common cold

Herbal remedy's backers question dosages in study

July 28, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

Echinacea, an herbal remedy popular for fighting the common cold, does not ward off runny noses, sore throats or headaches, nor does it help speed recovery from cold symptoms, according to the results of a broad clinical trial to be reported today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Taken with other recent studies that showed no benefit from echinacea, the new findings shift the burden of proof to proponents of herbal products to demonstrate that the plant has medicinal value, researchers said.

"We find no evidence that it actually does anything to common cold symptoms," said Dr. Ronald B. Turner, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and the study's lead author. "If that's the reason you're buying it, then you're wasting your money."

Echinacea enthusiasts said they do not think the results of the study merit such a clear-cut conclusion.

They pointed out that Turner and his colleagues used only the root portion of one version of the plant and said the dosage given was too low to register any positive effect.

"This is a good contribution to the clinical literature, but it's not the definitive study on echinacea," said Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council, a nonprofit group backed by herbal supplement makers whose logo includes a purple echinacea flower. "I just wish it had been a bigger study with bigger dosages."

Echinacea, a member of the same plant family as sunflowers and daisies, was used for hundreds of years by more than a dozen American Indian tribes to treat snakebites, toothaches, coughs and other ailments.

Western doctors began recommending it in the 19th century. It became popular in the United States in the 1960s as consumers embraced herbal alternatives to traditional medicine.

Americans spent $153 million on echinacea products last year, making it one of the five best-selling herbs in the country, according to the Nutrition Business Journal, an industry publication based in San Diego.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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