Home' D Fine Redland Lifestyle Magazine : March 2010 Contents 16 d'fine magazine March 9, 2010
WHEN warm weather becomes a
distant memory and the sniffle
season rolls in, will echinacea really
help stave off winter colds?
Fans of this herb, which is reputed to boost
immunity, swear it can stop a cold or sore throat in
its tracks or ward off an inflight bug whenever
they board a plane.
But as far as science is concerned, some studies
show it works, while others say it doesn't. One
reason for the conflicting research results is that
different studies have used different doses of
echinacea, explains research biochemist Dr Anita
Matthias, who is trying to establish more scientific
credibility for the popular herb.
"Another is that, unlike pharmaceutical drugs,
the chemical composition of plants can be so
variable," says Matthias.
"It can change from one year to the next, even
in plants grown in the same spot, because the
amount of sunlight and the nutrients in the soil
can change." Matthias is a researcher with
MediHerb Australia, a company making
practitioner-only herbal products you can't buy
over the counter.
Her research has shown that echinacea
increases the ability of white blood cells -- part of
the body's immune system -- to kill invading
bacteria in laboratory tests. In human clinical
trials, she's found echinacea increases the
number of white blood cells.
But there are still unanswered questions -- such
as exactly which of echinacea's chemicals
improve immunity and what is an effective dose
Matthias believes the main immune boosters
are chemicals called alkylamides, found in the
root of two types of echinacea -- Echinacea
purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia.
However, Dr Marc Cohen, a general practitioner
and professor of complementary medicine at the
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, says
more research needs to be done.
"The compounds in echinacea are very complex
and they may interact to enhance or inhibit each
other," he says, adding that it is difficult to get the
same assurances for complementary medicine as
we expect from pharmaceutical drugs because
their composition varies.
With no clear consensus on either echinacea's
essential ingredient or its dosage, consumers are
on their own when it comes to choosing a
But one rule of thumb is the tingle test,Cohen says.
"Some research suggests that an effective
extract or tablet will make your tongue tingle
when you swallow it," he says.
"Another guide is price--- if a product is cheap,it's
probably not very effective --- although a high price
is no guarantee of quality. And, as a general rule,
products prescribed by a practitioner are likely to
be more potent." As for the herb's safety record,
Matthias says there's no evidence of any toxic
effects from echinacea, although some people,
including those with asthma, may be allergic to
products made from the echinacea flower.
"The product information should tell you
which part of the plant it comes from -- the root or
the flower," she says. "If it doesn't say 'root', don't
By Paula Goodyer
power of echinacea
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DF 1457704 - 9/2/10
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