With over 200 cold viruses floating around ready to make us sick, is it any wonder that people are always looking for ways to prevent this illness or reduce its symptoms and duration if it does strike?
Echinacea was traditionally used by Native Americans to treat a variety of ailments, including respiratory infections. Recognized for its ability to stimulate the immune system, this natural supplement is still taken today to help prevent colds and lessen their severity and duration.
Some studies seem to clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of Echinacea, while others have been less conclusive. One of the factors explaining this disparity could be that the studies did not all use the same species of Echinacea or even the same parts of the plant. There seems to be evidence that purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea) may be the most effective at treating colds. In addition, formulas made using fresh Echinacea may have a higher level of active ingredients than products made with dried plants.
What about contraindications?
As with prescription and non-prescription medications, you should always be careful when taking natural health products or supplements. Your family pharmacist is the best health professional to advise you in this respect. Be sure to talk to him or her!
Whenever purchasing a natural health product, in this case Echinacea, you also want to make sure that:
- It has a natural product number (NPN) certifying that it is approved by Health Canada.
- It will not interact with other medications you are taking.
- It is not contraindicated for you given your current health issues. For example, do not use Echinacea if you have:
- Asthma or are allergic to plants of the Asteracea family (sunflowers, ragweed, chrysanthemums, daisies, etc.)
- A compromised immune system or an autoimmune disease (multiple sclerosis, collagenosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.)
- Tuberculosis or AIDS.
Some Echinacea-based formulas may also not be suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Ask your family pharmacist for advice before taking these products.
You should not take Echinacea for more than eight consecutive weeks, as this could reduce the effectiveness of the treatment and weaken your immune system.
The ABCs of cold prevention and treatment
In terms of preventing viral illnesses, vaccination is the only effective measure to protect yourself from the flu. As for colds, your best bet is to rely on good hygiene.
- Support your immune system by adopting a healthy lifestyle: a sound diet, exercise, adequate sleep, quitting smoking and moderate alcohol consumption.
- Wash your hands often.
- Cough into your elbow or into a tissue.
- Do not touch your nose, mouth or eyes with your hands after coming into contact with germs.
- When possible, avoid contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home if you are ill.
In terms of treatment, you need to rest and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and keep mucous thin. For a stuffy, runny nose and chest congestion, use saline solution. You can also inhale steam (hot or cold) to clear your respiratory tract.
But remember that when it comes to the common cold, patience is a virtue. Whether you treat it or not, it will usually last 7 days…or a week.
If you have other questions about Echinacea or colds, talk to your family pharmacist!