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Echinacea Unlikely Beneficial for Common Cold Symptoms

Compared to placebo, does not improve the duration or severity of illness

TUESDAY, Dec. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Echinacea does not appear to improve the duration or severity of the common cold, according to a study published in the Dec. 21 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Bruce Barrett, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and colleagues randomized 719 patients, aged 12 to 80 years, with new-onset common cold to one of four parallel groups: no pills, placebo pills (blinded), echinacea pills (blinded), or echinacea pills (unblinded, open-label). Patients who received echinacea received an equivalent of 10.2 g of dried echinacea root during the first 24 hours and 5.1 g during each of the following four days.

For the blinded and unblinded echinacea groups, the investigators found that the mean global severity was 236 and 258, respectively. For the blinded placebo and no pill groups, the mean global severity was 264 and 286, respectively. The mean illness duration in the echinacea blinded group was 6.34 days, and it was 6.76 days in the unblinded echinacea group. In the blinded placebo and no pill groups, the mean illness duration was 6.87 days and 7.03 days, respectively. The differences between the blinded groups were not statistically significant in either severity or duration (P = 0.089 and P = 0.075, respectively).

"In conclusion, the pharmacologic activity of echinacea probably has only a small beneficial effect in persons with the common cold," the authors write. "Any underlying benefit of echinacea is not large and was not demonstrated by our results. Individual choices about whether to use echinacea to treat the common cold should be guided by personal health values and preferences, as well as by the limited evidence available."

MediHerb provided the placebo and echinacea tablets used in the study and conducted the phytochemical assays. One author disclosed a financial relationship with MediHerb, a division of Integria Healthcare.

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