When it comes to the effectiveness of echinacea in fighting colds, study outcomes have been very inconsistent. Some trials have found no benefits associated with the herbal supplements, while others have found that echinacea may help to boost immunity and prevent colds.
There are nine different species of echinacea, a flowering plant that can be found in the United States and Canada. The stems, leaves, flowers, and roots are used to make teas and supplements, which have been used as medicine for centuries.
According to WebMD: “Extracts of echinacea do seem to have an effect on the immune system, your body’s defense against germs. Research shows it increases the number of white blood cells, which fight infections.”
A 2015 study by researchers at Hannover Medical School in Germany found that echinacea could reduce the risk of colds by 35 percent. On the other hand, research from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found no evidence that echinacea helps to fight colds in adults or children.
The inconsistency among echinacea studies is likely due to the fact that there are so many different types and strengths of the supplements.
Dr. Mark Moyad is the Director of Preventive and Alternative Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center in the Department of Urology. He is also one of the world’s leading experts on dietary supplements.
Dr. Moyad told TIME that echinacea may reduce the risk of a cold by around 10 to 20 percent. “This may seem underwhelming. But it’s not as if we have a lot of options to prevent colds – especially in people that get a lot of colds during the year.”
Dr. Moyad explained that while regular exercise, hand washing, and sleep are the best ways to prevent getting sick, echinacea may also provide some benefits without any major side effects. He recommends shopping for products that have been certified by quality control companies like NSF or USP to make sure that the supplement will be free of additives or contaminants.