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Dr Russ Blog - Of Echinacea and Individuality
Of Echinacea and Individuality
Created on 1/28/2011

The herb echinacea has been well-studied as a remedy against the common cold. The findings of these studies vary widely, ranging from echinacea significantly shortening the duration and lessening the severity of cold symptoms, to there being no effect at all.

A recent, well-done study showed that a specific formulation of echinacea (there are many) provided at best a 1/2-day shortening of illness compared with placebo (we'll address the debate on whether or not getting better 1/2-day earlier is significant or not another day...).

The common cold is generally a self-limiting illness, meaning that our bodies take care of things and we get better soon, usually within a week or two. So, why spend so much time and money studying ways to prevent and treat a cold?

Because the common cold is one of the most costly of illnesses (think days lost to work and school, visits to the doctor, and the purchasing of over the counter remedies and even antibiotics [heaven forbid - remember that colds are caused by viruses, and antibiotics have no effect against viruses]).

You don't typically feel as badly with a cold as you do with the flu, but it's still no fun. And that's a big part of the reason why research is ongoing.

Returning to echinacea, however, there remains no consistent guideline with respect to whether we should use it when we "catch" a cold or not.

And maybe that's okay, because it underscores a simple fact of life that conventional medicine often leaves out of the healthcare equation - people are different.

We are individuals with unique makeups. It appears that some people respond well to certain interventions, some not so well, even if most everything else about their situations is similar. The same is true with echinacea for the common cold.

Is it worth a try? Probably. A significant number of studies suggest it can be effective, and it has been shown multiple times over to be safe when used appropriately provided you're not allergic to its contents.

Will echinacea work for everybody? No.

Almost nothing "works" for everybody. And that's part of the beauty of life - the unique nature each of us brings to the world.

It's just that sometimes that unique nature stymies our best attempts to treat illness. And with respect to using echinacea for the common cold, we simply have to get more comfortable with inconsistency.

The best thing you can do is not get a cold in the first place (get plenty of sleep, wash your hands frequently, eat well, and all the other things our moms have told us for generations - they're right).

Be well.
Dr. Russ
** Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. **


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