Fight the Common Cold Naturally

Cape Times (South Africa), June 27, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Fight the Common Cold Naturally

LONDON: A popular herbal remedy can cut the risk of catching a cold by more than a half, according to a scientific assessment of the supposed health benefits of the echinacea plant.

Scientists reviewed 14 previous trials of echinacea to assess whether the herb really works against the common cold virus, and concluded that it can reduce the risk of infection by 58%. The researchers also found that echinacea remedies can reduce the time that a person, once infected, is affected by a cold virus by an average of 1.4 days - a statistically significant reduction.

Echinacea, a group of native North American plants, has long been considered to have medicinal properties, but the latest study, published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, appears to justify its reputation when it comes to the common cold.

"Echinacea is one of the most commonly used herbal products, but controversy exists about its benefits in the prevention and treatment of the common cold," according to the scientists, led by Craig Coleman of the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy in Hartford, Connecticut.

"An analysis of the current evidence in the (scientific) literature suggests that echinacea has a benefit in decreasing the incidence and duration of the common cold," they say.

However, the researchers stopped short of recommending the prescription of echinacea to prevent or treat the common cold until further research based on larger-scale trials can show which doses and preparations are the most effective.

Colds are caused by any one of more than 200 viruses that can infect the respiratory tract and echinacea contains several natural compounds that may have an effect on the body's immune system. It is therefore difficult to assess what it is in the herb that can prevent the symptoms of an attack by such a wide range of viruses.

The scientists found, for instance, that some studies suggested that echinacea is less effective against rhinovirus, one of the most ubiquitous cold viruses. Only 35% of people who were deliberately inoculated with rhinovirus gained some protection when given echinacea as a prophylactic.

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