Echinacea: Cold Crusher or Just a Costly Myth?

Echinacea, a popular herbal supplement, has a long history of use for various ailments. Native Americans used echinacea for hundreds of years to treat wounds and infections. Today, many people use echinacea to help prevent and treat common illnesses such as colds and the flu.

Echinacea’s Cold and Flu Fighting Abilities

Although there has been some conflicting research on echinacea’s effectiveness, most studies suggest that it does help boost your immune system. Clinical trials have shown that echinacea is as effective as prescription flu medication Tamiflu, but with fewer side effects.

A 2012 clinical trial found that people who took echinacea extract before, during, and after a long-distance flight were less likely to develop a cold. Several other trials have demonstrated that the herb can reduce the severity and length of a cold, especially when taken at the onset of symptoms.

A review of 14 clinical trials found that taking echinacea reduces the likelihood of developing a cold by 58% and shortens the duration of a cold by one to four days. Another 2014 review found that certain echinacea preparations could reduce the risk of catching a cold by 10 to 20%, but the researchers admitted that this herb’s effectiveness was weak.

Potential Benefits Beyond Colds and Flu

Many believe that echinacea could help with other health concerns, including bronchitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, shingles, urinary tract infections, burns, yeast infections, canker sores, cold sores, cuts and scrapes, and even cancer.

How to Get the Most from Echinacea

With a variety of echinacea supplements available, it can be challenging to find the right one. However, to get the most out of this herb, consider purchasing it in liquid form, making it easier for your body to absorb. Liquid echinacea can be found at health food stores as either a fresh-pressed juice or an alcohol-based tincture.

If you choose a juice, it should be standardized to contain 2.4% beta-1,2-fructofuranosides, and the tincture should contain a 5:1 concentration of echinacea. For cold and flu prevention, a supplement made from Echinacea purpurea (plant) and Echinacea pallida (root) would be most beneficial, with a dosage of 200 mg per day. However, if you’re taking the supplement for eight weeks or longer, be sure to take a one-week break to maintain its effectiveness.

With the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, echinacea could be an essential tool to help keep cold and flu symptoms at bay. Do your research and choose the echinacea supplement that’s best suited for your needs, and consider giving your immune system that extra boost it may need during cold and flu season.