Standardized extracts have other specific doses. Some people use echinacea tea, 6-8 ounces, four times daily. Echinacea appears to be most effective when started as soon as symptoms are noticed, taken many times a day, and used for seven to 10 days.
You've tried everything. Cough drops, decongestants, and some ibuprofen, too. But that sneezing, hacking, and all-around lousy feeling won't go away. Just as you're ready to wave the white flag, you start to wonder: Could an herbal remedy like echinacea save the day?
Researchers are trying to find out. Their answer so far: We're just not sure.
What Is Echinacea?
It's a flowering plant that grows in the U.S. and Canada, and it's been used as medicine for centuries. There are nine species. Some of its common names are the purple coneflower or black-eyed Susan. The leaves, stems, flower, and roots are used to make supplements, liquid extracts, and teas.
Does It Work for a Cold?
Studies have had mixed results. Extracts of echinacea do seem to have an effect on the immune system, your body's defense against germs. Research shows it increases the number of white blood cells, which fight infections. A review of more than a dozen studies, published in 2014, found the herbal remedy had a very slight benefit in preventing colds.
Two studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health did not find any help for a cold from echinacea in either children or adults, though.
Still, sometimes it's hard to compare the results of different studies, because they look at different types and strengths of echinacea, as well as different parts of the plant or root. It's possible that some versions are better than others. Also, it's possible the herbal remedy may be useful against some, but not all, of the more than 200 viruses that cause colds.
Are There Side Effects?
Although the benefits of echinacea for the common cold are uncertain, the risks seem to be low. The most common side effect is upset stomach.
But some people can have allergic reactions. If this happens, you might get:
Worsening of asthma symptoms
Anaphylaxis (a life-threatening emergency that can cause trouble breathing)
You might be at higher risk of having a reaction to echinacea if you're allergic to other plants in the daisy family. This includes ragweed, chrysanthemums, and marigolds.
Echinacea might also not be safe for people who use certain drugs. Examples are some medications for heart problems -- like amiodarone (Cordarone, Pacerone) -- and some anti-fungal treatments. The combination of echinacea and these medicines could cause liver damage.
Some experts say you shouldn't take echinacea for more than 8 weeks at a time. Although there is no evidence that the herb would cause harm after this point, doctors don't know enough yet about its long-term safety.
Keep in mind that herbal remedies like echinacea aren't regulated in the U.S. the way medications are. The makers of supplements don't have to show their products are safe or effective before they go on the market. Also, there's a chance that what you buy at the drugstore may not actually have what the label says it does.
Other Alternative Treatments
Many other herbs, plants, minerals, vitamins, and supplements are used by some people to help ease cold symptoms. Some examples are:
But so far, no studies show that these treatments have an effect against a cold.
If you're interested in using echinacea or another alternative treatment, talk to your doctor. Remember, herbal remedies may have risks, just like any drug. They can cause side effects and could affect how other medications work.
How much echinacea can i take daily?
Researchers published a Cochrane Library systematic review in 2006. A systematic review means that a group of experts gather all the evidence about a particular subject. They then go through it to work out whether there is any evidence to support it. In the review researchers looked at 13 trials. The trials looked at whether using echinacea might treat and prevent the common cold.
Some of the studies showed that it might reduce the length of time colds last and relieve symptoms. But others showed that it did not work.
The review found that there was no evidence that echinacea could prevent the common cold. They recommended more research into how echinacea could help to treat infections. Also, to learn more about its side effects.
A study in 2010 looked at how well echinacea root powder worked for people who already had colds. It found that taking echinacea did not make any difference to how long the colds lasted.
In 2012 researchers did a study on more than 700 people. They found that people who took echinacea every day for at least 4 months had fewer colds and few side effects.
Researchers did another Cochrane review in 2014. They found that echinacea products on the market differ widely.
They also found that some types might reduce the risk of getting a cold in between 10 to 20 out of every 100 people (10% to 20%).
The researchers felt that this was a small effect and that the evidence to support it was unclear. This is because the studies used different preparations of echinacea.
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