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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Echinacea for colds

It is the herbal remedy millions swear by every winter for warding off the sniffles. And while some have doubted if echinacea is effective at combating colds, scientists now say it really does work. A review shows that taking supplements of the plant, also known as purple coneflower, can cut the chances of catching a cold by more than half.

When used as a treatment it reduces the length of a cold by 1 1/z days on average, according to research published by US researchers in The Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal. The review, which combines the results of 14 previous studies, should finally give the seal of approval to the remedy. Doubts over its efficacy led Dr Craig Coleman and colleagues at the University of Connecticut School of Phar macy to analyse clinical trials using echinacea for prevention or treatment of colds.

They found it cut the chances of catching a cold by 58 per cent, including in studies where volunteers were exposed to cold viruses in the laboratory. It was even more effective when used in real life "natural" settings, cutting the risk by 65 per cent. Overall, it cut the duration of a cold by 1.4 days among those using it as a treatment. The time for which it was used ranged from a few days to several weeks.

Only one study combined echinacea with vitamin C, and the two together reduced the incidence of colds by 86 per cent. But the researchers could not conclude whether the two supplements combined are more effective than echinacea alone.

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