Sabrina Chyzyk Zaslov
The winter months are upon us – bringing with them the cold and flu season. Prevention is the best treatment for these winter ailments and many people choose alternative-type therapies. But just how effective and safe are these methods? This article will focus on one popular herbal supplement traditionally used to treat or prevent colds and the flu – Echinacea, also known as purple coneflower, coneflower or American coneflower.
Echninacea has been examined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (the scientific gold standard for evidence-based clinical information on natural medicines). These studies indicate that Echinacea does not appear to prevent colds or the flu. However, some Echinacea preparations such as Nature Made Brand Echinacea, whole herb contain the Echinacea purpurea species. This kind of Echinacea shows the best evidence for modestly reducing cold symptom severity and duration (about 10-30%) by stimulating immune response. It seems to be most effective if started when symptoms are first noticed and continued for 7-10 days.
However, not all studies on Echinacea are positive. Studies published in multiple medical journals, such as the American Journal of Medicine, the New England Journal of Medicine and the Annals of Internal Medicine, show no benefit for treating the common cold with this herbal supplement.
So, the question is: should you take it or not? Echinacea is likely safe when used orally and appropriately, short-term. There isn’t reliable evidence about the safety when used long term. Pregnant and lactating women should avoid it.
Most people can tolerate Echinacea, though there may be some gastrointestinal adverse effects. Echinacea may interact with autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis or those who have a genetic tendency toward allergic reactions.
Also, always be aware that Echinacea may interact with other drugs/medications by either increasing or decreasing the effectiveness. These drugs include: caffeine, acetaminophen (Tylenol), Plavix, Coumadin, Mevacor, Cardizem, Prograf, prednisone and other corticosteroids, and Versed. Always make sure to discuss any supplements you are taking with your physician and or pharmacist.
So, what other alternatives are there for preventing winter sickness? Here are simple and safe strategies for preventing the common cold or the flu:
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