Advertisements tell you that echinacea helps prevent colds and that it lessens the symptoms of a cold. We have heard such claims for years. Are they true?
Echinacea is a plant with the formal name of Echinacea purport. The leaf and other parts are processed and sold in various forms such as capsules, tablets, tinctures and tea. I am certain that you have seen these products on the shelves of your pharmacies, supermarkets and health food stores. The market for echinacea is huge with sales of tens of millions of dollars.
The real questions we should ask are does echinacea really work and is it worth the money? Laboratory research has shown that echinacea can stimulate the immune system and that it has antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects. This is well and good and makes a great sales pitch; however, several recent well designed studies have found that echinacea was no better than a placebo at preventing colds or reducing symptoms of a cold.
The bottom line is that claims for echinacea have not been supported by solid clinical investigation. If you believe that it helps and if you do not mind spending the money, go ahead and take it. If you have an autoimmune disorder such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, be aware that echinacea could worsen your condition because of its effect on your immune system. If in doubt ask your physician.