2007-08-17 / Columnists

Health & Harmony

Echinacea
Commentary By Dr. Nancy Gahles

DR. NANCY GAHLES DR. NANCY GAHLES Information about the value of Echinacea when used to treat or prevent colds has come under fire in recent years.

One well-publicized study was flawed due to the strain of Echinacea used, but articles about its ineffectiveness were so widespread that people still do not trust it.

In my own practice, I have used Echinacea angustifolia with great success, both in prevention and the treatment of people with symptoms of colds. Indeed, in some cases, it does prevent the full-blown cold from occurring and it does limit the duration and severity in other cases. There is a caveat to using Echinacea in auto-immune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

As with all over-the-counter, self-prescribed medications, one should be judicious in the use of herbs and should always consult a physician for known herb-drug interactions.

Dr. Joseph Mercola publishes a wellrespected website that I invite you to look at and subscribe to. His information is thoroughly researched and documented and easy to read for the average consumer of health care. Visit www.mercola.com.

These comments are from his August newsletter regarding Echinacea:

A review of more than 700 previous studies concluded that Echinacea does have a substantial effect in preventing colds and limiting their duration.

The issue of whether Echinacea is effective in the treatment of colds or not, has wavered back and forth, with some studies showing great effectiveness and others drawing the opposite conclusion. This review took a different approach to the issue and used statistical techniques to combine the results of existing studies, including only randomized and placebo-controlled trials.

The analysis found that Echinacea reduced the risk of catching a cold by 58 percent, and that the duration of a cold was significantly reduced.

But other experts are still skeptical about the technique used to reach these conclusions, holding fast to their own, less optimistic, findings.

Dr. Coleman, senior author of the paper, points out that there are several reasons why even a carefully devised study might fail to show an effect that actually does exist. Since there are more than 200 species of cold viruses, a study might be using a species against which Echinacea happens to be ineffective. But that doesn't mean it won't work for other strains. Additionally, some studies may not use large enough doses of the herb, and others may be using less potent types of Echinacea.

For more information, check out the July 24 New York Times article on Echinacea, "Echinacea Helps Colds, Major Review Shows," by Nicholas Bakalar, on their website.

Keeping yourself informed in the world of health care is as necessary as watching the stock market's performance. Health is wealth and nobody watches out for your selfinterest better than you.

May The Blessings Be!

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