A recent study published in Annals of Internal Medicine looked at the use of echinacea to fight the common cold. The herb is a popular cold remedy used in the United States.
The study looked at whether or not using echinacea can actually decrease the severity of cold symptoms, such as a runny nose, sore throat, nasal stuffiness and cough. It also questioned whether or not the herb could shorten the duration of cold systems. Additionally, the study explored the interactions of echinacea with a person’s immune system while fighting a cold.
The researchers looked at over 700 participants, age 12-80 years, in Dane County, WI. The participants had no symptoms that could be confused with cold symptoms, such as those from allergic rhinitis or asthma, and were determined to have symptoms due to a common cold. The researchers then randomly assigned participants different remedies: echinacea, a placebo, or no remedy whatsoever. Those assigned a pill were not told if it was echinacea or a placebo. Patients then were instructed to record their symptoms two times each day.
Researchers found that those who received echinacea had an extremely small (7-to-10 hour) decrease in duration and severity of cold systems over the course of approximately one week. The echinacea did not seem to cause any side effects, nor did it seem to significantly affect the immune function of those receiving the herb as compared to those not receiving it.
Overall, researchers concluded that it is possible that echinacea may produce a slight decrease in the length and/or severity of symptoms for cold sufferers, “but to such a small degree that they may not care about the difference.”