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According to the largest ever clinical study of echinacea, the herbal remedy can prevent colds and is of most benefit to people who are prone to them.

Researchers found that taking three daily doses of the common remedy for four months reduced the number of colds.

The duration of the illness suffered by patients also went down by an average of 26%.

According to the results of tests on 750 people, the treatment also cut the number of recurrent colds suffered by those with weak immune systems or a history of catching several bouts each year by 60%.

Several previous studies, including an overview of evidence by the highly respected Cochrane Library, had suggested that echinacea could soothe symptoms and cut colds short, but there was only limited evidence it could prevent the illness from ever taking hold.

The most recent major paper into the therapy, by the American College of Physicians, had found that it did not prevent colds or significantly reduce the length or severity symptoms.

But the new study by experts from the Cardiff University Common Cold Centre suggested that taking Echinaforce, a common form of the herb extract, could not only reduce the risk of colds but reduce the amount of paracetamol patients took while ill.

The research, which was part-funded by A. Vogel, the Swiss manufacturers of Echinaforce, was published in the peer-reviewed journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

It was primarily designed to test the safety of the treatment, and found that it caused no adverse side effects in the participants, who were all over the age of 18.

Echinacea is extracted from the Eastern Purple Coneflower, which is found in North America, and has long been used as a herbal remedy for the common cold.

It is purported to work by fighting viruses, which cause up to 95% of all colds and flu, and studies suggest it can also boost weak immune systems if swallowed.

Patients mixed 25 drops of Echinaforce or a placebo with water and held it in their mouths for 10 seconds before swallowing it, three times per day over a four month period.

Those who took the treatment suffered 149 bouts of illness compared with 188 in the placebo group, a difference described by researchers as “borderline significant”, but the total number of days spent with flu was reduced from 850 to 672, a “highly significant” change.

Recurring infections were cut from 100 episodes in 43 patients to 65 episodes in 28 patients, a difference of 59%, the authors wrote.

Roland Schoop, a medical researcher for Bioforce, the British arm of A. Vogel, and one of the study’s authors, told the Daily Telegraph: “We were actually pretty amazed when we found this 26% difference in cold episodes.”



Scientists say they can find no convincing evidence to show that taking vitamin D supplements will fend off a cold.

A New Zealand team did the “gold standard” of tests – a randomized placebo-controlled trial – to see what impact the supplements would have.

The 161 people who took daily vitamin D for 18 months caught as many colds as the 161 who took fake pills.

The study was reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

However, Professor Ronald Eccles, a leading UK cold expert, said vitamin D was useful.

Prof. Ronald Eccles, of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University, said it can give the immune system a much-needed boost during winter when vitamin D reserves may be low.

He said he takes it every year as a precaution.

“There is sufficient information to indicate that vitamin D is a vital vitamin for the immune system.

“Supplementation might help to support the immune system over the winter when we are short of vitamin D.”

He said Echinacea supplements may also help ward off coughs and colds, but added: “Supplements do not work for everybody because people’s immune systems are different. It’s not a case of one size fits all.”

They are pointless unless you are deficient, he said.

We get most of our vitamin D from sunlight on our skin, but it is also found in certain foods like oily fish, eggs and breakfast cereals.

Most people should be able to get all the vitamin D they need by eating a healthy balanced diet and by getting some summer sun.

The study, carried out in New Zealand, which gets more sunshine annually than the UK, found the vitamin D supplements increased blood levels of the vitamin.

But this had no significant impact on the rate or severity of colds.

The vitamin D group caught an average of 3.7 colds per person compared with 3.8 colds per person for the placebo group.

There was no significant difference between the two groups in the number of days missed off work as a result of cold symptoms or duration of symptoms.

Adults catch between two to four colds a year and children up to 10 a year.