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Does the Herb Echinacea Work Against the Common Cold?

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The flu has made headlines this year because of how fast it's spreading. But there's another virus parents need to be concerned about-- the common cold.

It's one of mankind's most stubborn enemies. And parents will do anything to help their kids get over the cold, like giving them the herb echinacea. But does it work?

Lots of people swear by echinacea.

Studies from Europe suggest that taking echinacea can shorten the length of colds in adults.

Now a study has taken a closer look at children... to see if the herbal supplement would help get kids up and running faster.

In a word... the answer is no.

Like most kids, Lindsey Boone gets plenty of colds. So her parents signed her up for a clinical study to see if echinacea could help her recover faster.

Lindsey Boone, Echinacea Study Patient: "I didn't really notice any difference. It kinda seemed like it wasn't doing anything."

That pretty well sums up the findings of a new study in the journal of the American medical association.

James Taylor, M.D., University of Washington: "We couldn't find any evidence that echinacea was effective in treating colds."

As an herbal remedy, echinacea can be sold without studies documenting it's safe or effective.

To test the treatment researchers tracked 524 children, age 2 to 11, for 4 months. Whenever they got colds, half took liquid echinacea, the others a similar tasting placebo syrup.

James Taylor, M.D., University of Washington: "We found that there was no difference in both the length of cold symptoms and severity of cold symptoms in children who received either echinacea or placebo for their colds. The average length of the colds in both groups was about nine days."

And while there was no evidence echinacea helped, there was a potential downside.

James Taylor, M.D., University of Washington: "There was a slight increase in rash reported in Children who took echinacea for their colds."

As it turns out, Lindsey was taking echinacea, but she probably won't take it again.

Lindsey Boone, Echinacea Study Patient: "I don't think I'll take echinacea again because it didn't Work and it was kind of nasty tasting."

Laurie Boone, Lindsey's mother: "Lindsey did not get a rash from the Echinacea, thank goodness, but she did have long colds, about four of them during the study."

This is a good example of a new trend in medicine... putting nutritional supplements and herbal remedies to the test... to see what works and what doesn't.

This study was sponsored by the National Center on Complementary and Alternative Medicine... which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

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