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Cold and Flu Favourite: Echinacea

By and on March 13, 2013
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Although we all like to think that we’re in the best of health, there’s no getting around the fact that we often find ourselves exposed to cold and flu viruses and that our immune systems may not be strong enough to fight off infections.

That’s never been more true than this year, when the supply of cold relief products and of popular flu vaccines has been compromised, leaving us with a reduced arsenal of weapons with which to wage our annual battle against illness. But scientists have now discovered that one of our best-known natural allies may be a lot stronger than previously thought.

Researchers at the Common Cold Centre of Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences have just released the results of the largest study ever conducted on Echinacea purpurea after three years of comprehensive testing and analysis. Their findings are conclusive: echinacea is an effective and safe medical alternative for both the prevention and treatment of cold and flu.

The study determined that a properly formulated echinacea purpurea product – they used an organic extract made from whole, freshly harvested plants, a combination of 95% herb to 5% root – could be taken daily for up to four months to help guard against infection. The formulation is key, since this type of extract modulates the immune system rather than simply giving it a boost – ensuring that it functions at peak efficiency but not overworking it, which can cause rebound symptoms after discontinuation.

This effect was most apparent among those subjects whose immune systems were at risk – people under stress, smokers or people who weren’t getting adequate sleep. Without echinacea, the study found that subjects had: a 66% higher risk of an infection when under stress, a 68% higher risk of an infection when not adequately rested and a 82% higher risk of an infection if they were smokers.

Of course, if you do get sick, echinacea also functions as an effective remedy. It has anti-bacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties; so, it kills the viruses that cause cold and flu, while at the same time helping the immune system return to full strength and allowing the body to heal itself. Patients saw, on average: a 63% reduction in the severity of their symptoms and a 1.5 day reduction in the duration of the infection.

This study clearly demonstrates that Echinacea purpurea fills a therapeutic gap in the treatment of colds and flu, offering long-term prevention when taken over the season when viruses are most active; short-term prevention during periods of increased risk due to stress or inadequate sleep; and as treatment for the acute symptoms of an infection.

In a year that sees other cold and flu products called into question, it’s important to know that there are still options to protect yourself and your family.

Monika Haefele is an expert in regulatory affairs and has worked extensively in the area of natural health products. She possesses a Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular Bioscience from Concordia University in Montreal.

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