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Echinacea: Nature's Cold and Flu Fighter

Echinacea: Nature's Cold and Flu Fighter
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By    |   Friday, 29 January 2016 03:33 PM

Echinacea has been the Rocky Balboa of natural cold and flu remedies since the 1990s — called a champion for your health one year, only to be knocked down by health experts the next.

In the late 1990s, it was the king of the ring, racking up impressive annual sales of $206 million after research suggested it can effectively combat winter viruses. By 2010 it was practically washed up, after some studies showed that it had little or no benefit — with annual sales plummeting to a paltry $115 million.

But the most recent research suggests that Echinacea is ready to reclaim its crown.

“There seems to be some benefit from taking it throughout the cold season,” says Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab.com, which recently published an extensive product review of Echinacea.

How a big a benefit?

A 25-50 percent reduced risk of catching a cold, Dr. Cooperman tells Health Radar. That’s on part with other prevention strategies designed to boost the immune system — such as getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and managing stress levels.

If you’re one of miserable millions who catch cold after cold through the winter, that’s huge. Here’s a primer.

What is echinacea? A flowering plant that is native to the United States and Canada, echinacea includes nine different species — three of which have been used medicinally: Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida. Of these, E. purpurea seems to be the most effective.

How does it work? Researchers believe that Echinacea prevents colds and flus because it stimulates the immune system. In laboratories, the herb has been shown to increase production of infection-fighting white blood cells.

How is it used? “Echinacea is typically used as a preventive product,” explains Dr. Cooperman. “That’s how it’s most effective.” Dr. Cooperman advises taking about 900 milligrams per day of Echinacea extract divided into two or three doses.

Are all products the same? In a word: no. Not any product will do. “Make sure it has the right species and part of the plant,” Dr. Cooperman cautions. It’s best to choose extracts or tinctures which contain either E. purpurea or E. angustifolia, which are the two best-studied species. It’s also important to choose extracts made from the above-ground (aerial) part of the plant such as its flowers, leaves, and stems. Such information should be listed on the label. Beware of products that list Echinacea as part of part of a “blend” or “proprietary formula” without specifying the type or amount. Based on the ConsumerLab.com reportthe top three picks are:
•    Swanson Superior Herbs Elderberry Echinacea Goldenseal Immune Complex.
•    Gaia Herbs Echinacea Supreme Liquid.
•    A. Vogel Echinaforce.

What does the research show? A Vogel Echinaforce is a Swiss-made product which was used in a large-scale study published in 2012. During the study, 755 participants took either A. Vogel Echinaforce or placebo for four months. The Echinacea group caught fewer colds than the placebo group (149 versus 188), which wasn’t statistically significant. But the Echinacea group experienced 26 percent fewer cold “events,” which was statistically significant.

Such an “event” was defined as a combination of a cold and its duration. In addition, the Echinacea group was significantly less likely to catch more than one cold. When they did come down with a cold, they took less pain medication. The researchers noted that Echinacea was particularly effective at preventing colds in people who smoked, had high levels of stress, or had trouble sleeping.

Does it treat viruses? Although most research supports the use of Echinacea to prevent colds and flus, some studies suggest it also may be a valuable treatment. A 2015 study showed that a hot drink blend of Echinacea and elderberry is just as effective as the prescription drug Tamiflu at treating symptoms of influenza.

The preparation is available in Europe and Canada, and is expected to hit the U.S. market sometime in 2016. At the first sign of a cold, Dr. Cooperman recommends starting a 900 milligrams daily course of Echinacea extract divided into two or three doses per day. If you take this amount for one to two weeks, you may be able to decrease the severity of your illness and shorten its duration.

Is it safe? For most people, Echinacea is a relatively safe herb. If side effects occur, they’re usually mild ones such as stomach upsets. Because Echinacea stimulates the immune system, however, it should not be used by people who have auto-immune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or Crohn’s disease or take immune-suppressant drugs such as steroids.

Echinacea also should be avoided by people with allergies to related plants such as daisies, sunflowers, marigolds, chrysanthemums, and ragweed.

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Echinacea, an herbal remedy made from a flowering plant, has been used as a natural cold and flu fighter for decades by traditional healers. Now scientific research is verifying its potential as a way to prevent and even treat cold-winter viruses by boosting immunity.
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Friday, 29 January 2016 03:33 PM
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