Echinacea: herbal medicine as part of a winter health strategy

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Echinacea: Herbal Medicine as Part of a Winter Health Strategy: Dr. Ross Walton, Immunologist and Founder of Clinical Research Society, A-IR reviews the scientific research on Echinacea and explains how this easily accessible licensed herbal medicine can play a useful and valuable role as part of a winter health strategy.

Echinacea purpurea is an herb that can be found on the shelves of the majority of UK pharmacies and health food stores. Currently licensed in the UK as a traditional herbal medicine to support immune health and relieve upper respiratory tract symptoms of colds and flu (such as sore throat, cough, runny nose, stuffy nose/sinuses, fever) , this herb may also help reduce infection and transmission of past, present, and future coronavirus strains as we learn to live with COVID, as well as shorten the duration and severity of symptoms when infected. ?

The evidence for echinacea continues to mount. There are over 30 peer-reviewed studies that support the growing evidence for a prophylactic role of Echinacea purpurea in preventing the incidence, severity, and duration of cold and flu virus symptoms. , as well as more recent research suggesting that it may be an effective prophylactic treatment. for a range of human coronaviruses.

In September 2020, the Swiss laboratory Spiez published a study in Virology Journali revealing that a fresh liquid whole plant extract of Echinacea purpurea could be effective as a prophylactic treatment for a spectrum of human coronaviruses. Researchers studied the activity of Echinacea purpurea extract (Echinaforce®) in vitro against HCoV-229E (coronavirus strain responsible for the seasonal cold), MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV-1, as well as SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19)[1].

The results showed that the extract of Echinacea purpurea is virucidal against HCoV-229E, by direct contact and as a pretreatment of an organotypic cell culture model. Additionally, both MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 were inactivated upon direct contact at similar concentrations of the extract.

These results suggest that echinacea extract may play a role in reducing human coronavirus replication in the respiratory tract if applied to the upper respiratory tract and in a manner that allows direct contact with the virus. ; however, the subsequent effect on disease severity and duration is not understood, and further studies are needed to fully determine treatment efficacy in a real-world setting.

Also, another article demonstrated that the use of antibiotics can be reduced through the use of Echinacea purpurea in the treatment of colds and flu. Twenty percent of influenza infections lead to complications, especially in the elderly and those with chronic illnesses. These secondary infections often lead to longer absences from work and, in the worst case, hospitalization. Fear of complications is the main reason for prescribing antibiotics by general practitioners, as well as pressure from patients to be prescribed antibiotics. The overuse of antibiotics, leading to the increase in the number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, is now a major global public health problem [2].

A third recent article conducted a retrospective analysis of two prophylactic studies of echinacea in adults and children. Here it was shown that within groups receiving echinacea during cold and flu season, where reductions in the frequency and severity of colds were observed, there were also significant reductions of the number of endemic coronaviruses. This displays efficacy against typical coronaviruses which it is hoped could be extrapolated to SARS-CoV-2.

The case for using Echinacea purpurea for upper respiratory tract infections has grown considerably over the past five years. An increasing number of preclinical studies have aimed to determine the underlying mechanisms of action of what clearly appears to be a complex substance, while clinical trials strive to demonstrate all the important clinical efficacy.

In 2012, 755 participants took part in the longest and largest trial to date by the Common Cold Center (Cardiff) of the preventive use of echinacea (Echinaforce extract) over a period of 4 –
one month period [3] . The development of recurrent colds was reduced by 59% as well as the severity of cold symptoms. The need to use painkillers has also more than halved. The number of colds decreased as well as the number of days when cold symptoms were felt. Echinacea was especially beneficial for people at higher risk of infection, such as those prone to more than two colds a year, those with high stress levels, poor sleepers, and smokers.

Research conducted by Professor Margaret Richie [4] at the University of St Andrews, pointed out that Echinacea purpurea adapts to individual needs; in those with lower production of immune mediators, Echinacea purpurea is stimulating, while in those with high production, Echinacea purpurea lowers inflammatory mediators, promoting a more moderate modulated response.
Meta-analysis data from six clinical trials with 2,458 participants presented to the Royal Society of Medicine showed that Echinacea purpurea extract significantly reduced recurrent respiratory tract infections and therefore the risk of pneumonia or bronchitis [5].

As the nation begins to get back on its feet, government officials have warned that we must continue to live with COVID-19 at a level we can tolerate, the same way we live with the flu, and vaccinations from reminder are likely to be required. Although the spread of the virus has been suppressed during the summer months, it has not completely disappeared, so it could be beneficial to support immune health throughout the year as well as at peak times of the year. ‘infection.

This highlights the need for additional, safe, self-administered supportive treatments for infection that can complement the critical and ongoing vaccination program.

So is Echinacea purpurea the answer? Additionally, larger, fully controlled, population-based clinical studies are needed to further prove the efficacy of echinacea and build on existing data that show the extract’s effectiveness in reducing serious secondary complications and prescription of antibiotics. However, this action, along with the broad virucidal and antiviral capacity of echinacea extracts, its efficacy against a large number of respiratory pathogens, including a number of different strains of SARS-CoV-2, and its disease profile. favorable safety provide a compelling rationale. for its additive use alongside vaccine-generated immunity strategies.

For optimal results, OTC Herbal medicines should contain all parts of the plant, such as those found in Echinaforce Echinacea Extract, produced by traditional herbal medicine brand A.Vogel, containing fresh and biological. But not all echinacea products are created equal, so look for traditional herbal medicines that display the THR logo on the packaging, as this indicates it has been assessed by the Medicines Regulatory Agency. and herbal products from the UK (MHRA), which has been verified for safety and quality, and which bears an approved medicinal claim for relieving cold and flu symptoms.


[1] Jawad M et al. Safety and efficacy profile of Echinacea purpurea for preventing cold episodes: randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012; doi: 10.1155/2012/841315

[2] https://bmccomplementmedtherapies.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12906-021-03310-

[3] https://orca.cardiff.ac.uk/41871/1/Jawad%202012.pdf

[4] Ritchie MR, Gertsch J, Klein P, Schoop R. Effects of Echinaforce treatment on stimulated blood cells ex vivo. Phytomedicine 2011; 18: 826-831

[5] Schapowal A, Klein P, Johnston SL. Echinacea reduces the risk of recurrent airway infections and complications: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Adv Ther. 2015;32(3):187-200

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