Echinacea does not ward off colds say leading doctors

No effect: Doctors have said that Echinacea will make no difference to the length or severity of a cold

No effect: Doctors have said that Echinacea will make no difference to the length or severity of a cold

The herbal remedy echinacea, which is taken to stave off colds, does not work, say leading doctors.

They suggest that the plant extract has little or no effect on the length or severity of symptoms including coughs and sneezes.

Increasing numbers of Britons take echinacea supplements every year at the first sign of a cold in the hope that they will help boost their immune system.

But a major study suggested that its effects are ‘minimal’, and for many people it will not work at all.

The research by the American College of Physicians compared the effects of the extract on 719 people experiencing the first sign of a cold.

Half were given echinacea tablets to take once a day for five days and the other half took placebos and recorded their symptoms for a week. 

Symptoms of the common cold – congestion, sore throat and fever – usually resolve within seven to ten days. The length of illness among the volunteers who took the echinacea was shorter by between seven and ten hours – a ‘statistically insignificant’ result, the experts said. The herb had no effect on severity of the symptoms. 

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, concluded that, for most people, taking the supplement was not ‘worthwhile’. 

The team, led by Professor Bruce Barrett at the University of Wisconsin concluded: ‘Any underlying benefit of echinacea is not large and was not demonstrated by our results. Individual choices about whether to use echinacea to treat the common cold should be guided by personal health values and preferences.’

However, Graham Keen, of the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association, which represents the natural health industry said: 'There is a strong history supporting the health properties of Echinacea.

'One large meta-analysis published in the Lancet in 2007 reviewed 14 unique studies and found support of Echinacea's benefit in decreasing the incidence and duration of the common cold.

'In light of this significant scientific study, I would suggest that this brings into question the results of one relatively small negative study.'

Echinacea comes in a variety of forms, including capsules, tablets, lozenges or as a concentrated liquid extract, costing up to £10.

The herb, derived from a flowering plant native to North America, has become increasing popular in the past decade. It was first used by American Indians to treat snake bites.

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now