American Botanical Council emphasizes potential benefits of echinacea syrup for children's colds in new clinical trial
(Austin, TX, December 1, 2003). A syrup made with the popular herb echinacea reduced the number of respiratory tract infections in children but did not reduce the severity of infections, according to a new clinical trial to be published in Wednesday's edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington and Bastyr University, was conducted on 524 children ages 2 to 11 and is one of the largest clinical trials on echinacea published to date.
In a finding that was not part of the trial's primary outcomes, children in the echinacea group experienced significantly fewer second and third upper respiratory tract infections (URIs) than children in the placebo group in the 4-month trial. In total, parents reported 707 cases of URIs in the study, reported in 407 children. There were 370 cases of URI in children treated with placebo but only 337 URIs in those treated with echinacea. Of the children with at least 1 URI, 64.4% of those receiving placebo had more than 1 URI compared with 52.3% of children receiving echinacea (P= .015).
As stated by the study's authors, "It is conceivable that echinacea stimulated an immune response in study children that was too late to modify the URI for which it was given but provided a window of protection against another URI in the child."
"Curiously, the press release from JAMA does not mention this important trend, nor is it mentioned in the study's abstract. We suspect that some medical writers who rely solely on the press release or the abstract will not be aware of this important benefit of the echinacea used in this study," said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC.
In the trial, the echinacea syrup did not lessen the duration or severity of the symptoms of the URIs, the primary outcomes that the study intended to measure, as reported by childrens' parents. Echinacea was observed to be generally safe, "well tolerated" according to the researchers, producing no serious adverse effects. However, there was a higher incidence of rash in the Echinacea group (7.1%) than in the placebo group (2.7%). Blumenthal emphasized that this minor adverse effect is not normally associated with the use of most echinacea products. He speculated that the rashes reported in this study might be due to allergic reactions to pollens in the echinacea preparation, since the product used contained the fresh-pressed juice of the above-ground part of the echinacea made in Germany. There are usually no pollens in echinacea root preparations which constitute a significant share of echinacea products on the U.S. market.
According to Dr. Rick Kingston, Associate Professor of Experimental and Clinical Pharmaocology at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Minnesota and an acknowledged expert on adverse reactions "Although there was a statistically higher incidence of rash in the echinacea group compared to the placebo group, the overall occurrence was relatively low in both groups. This should not necessarily preclude the use of echinacea as the potential benefit of reducing subsequent URIs is significant."
Echinacea was the most widely used medicinal plant of the Indians of the Great Plains and was popular in a branch of American medicine in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Echinacea preparations can be made from either the roots and/or above-ground portions of three different species of the plant. The large body of scientific literature on various echinacea preparations suggests that echinacea safely improves immune system function and can be effective in treating symptoms of URI when used at the first sign of a cold or flu. Echinacea ranked third in sales in mainstream retail markets in 2002.
The American Botanical Council is the nation's leading non-profit organization addressing research and educational issues regarding herbs and medicinal plants. The 15-year-old organization occupies a 2.5 acre site in Austin, Texas where it publishes HerbalGram, a peer-reviewed journal, and its new reference book, The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs, containing an extensive monograph on the safety and efficacy of Echinacea and 28 other popular herbs. Information contact: ABC at P.O. Box 144345, Austin, TX 78714-4345, ph: 512-926-4900, fax: 512-926-2345. Website: www.herbalgram.org.
Taylor JA, Weber W, Standish L, Quinn H, Goesling J, McGann M, Calabrese C. Efficacy and safety of Echinacea in treating upper respiratory tract infections in children: A randomized controlled trial. J Amer Med Assn Dec 3, 2003;290(21):2824-30.