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The Latest on Echinacea for Cold Prevention

The Latest on Echinacea for Cold Prevention: Main Image
Echinacea may cut the number and length of colds by about 25%
With a lack of treatments to prevent the common cold, researchers continue their search for options. A study in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine supports some previous research that echinacea may cut the number and length of colds by about 25%.

Herb linked to relief

In this study, 755 healthy adults were randomly assigned to receive an alcohol extract from freshly harvested Echinacea purpurea or placebo, daily for 4 months. Participants took 3 doses of placebo or extract (a total of 2,400 mg of extract) per day. During acute colds, they were to take 5 doses of placebo or extract (a total of 4,000 mg of extract) per day.

Results showed that both cold episodes and number of days with a cold were reduced by 25% in the echinacea group. They also used fewer symptom-relief medications compared with the placebo group. Echinacea appeared to work particularly well for preventing another cold after a first cold and when participants followed the exact intake instructions.

The study authors conclude that taking echinacea preventively over a four-month period appears to provide possible cold protection, adding that 75% of participants said they would take the medicine again. They report a very good safety profile for their intervention but recommend further research, as these preliminary findings do not rule out the possibility of rare adverse events from long-term use of the herb.

Tips for cold prevention

The common cold is the number one reason people visit their doctor, and the average adult "spends up to [two] years over a lifetime with cold symptoms," according to the study authors. That's a lot of sick days! As you brace for cold and flu season, remember to follow time-honored recommendations for keeping germs at bay. Read on!

Wash your hands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that handwashing is one of the most important steps a person can take to avoid germs and sickness. They recommend washing your hands before and after taking care of someone who is sick, and after sneezing or coughing into your hands or blowing your nose.

Choose healthy lifestyle behaviors. Don't smoke or drink alcohol in excess--both of these choices lower your body's ability to fight off infection. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of regular exercise, and minimize stress--all of these choices boost your immune system.

Talk with a doctor. Before taking supplements such as echinacea extract, talk with your doctor about whether it is an appropriate preventive option for you, particularly if you are already treating a medical condition.

(J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med 2012, Article ID 841315, doi:10.1155/2012/841315; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; www.cdc.gov/handwashing; accessed 11/28/2012)
Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.
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