Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold

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Twenty-four double-blind trials with 4631 participants including a total of 33 comparisons of Echinacea preparations and placebo met the inclusion criteria. A variety of different Echinacea preparations based on different species and parts of plant were used. Evidence from seven trials was available for preparations based on the aerial parts of Echinacea purpurea.

Ten trials were considered to have a low risk of bias, six to have an unclear risk of bias and eight to have a high risk of bias. Ten trials with 13 comparisons investigated prevention and 15 trials with 20 comparisons investigated treatment of colds (one trial addressed both prevention and treatment).

Due to the strong clinical heterogeneity of the studies we refrained from pooling for the main analysis. None of the 12 prevention comparisons reporting the number of patients with at least one cold episode found a statistically significant difference. However a post hoc pooling of their results, suggests a relative risk reduction of 10% to 20%. Of the seven treatment trials reporting data on the duration of colds, only one showed a significant effect of Echinacea over placebo. The number of patients dropping out or reporting adverse effects did not differ significantly between treatment and control groups in prevention and treatment trials. However, in prevention trials there was a trend towards a larger number of patients dropping out due to adverse events in the treatment groups.