An Echinacea extract is just as effective as the antiviral drug Tamiflu at speeding recovery from flu infection, according to a study published in the journal Current Therapeutic Research.
The new findings build on prior research which showed that Echinacea acts as an antiviral agent against the influenza virus in vitro.
“Echinaforce Hotdrink has here been demonstrated as attractive therapy for acute influenza treatment with better safety and comparable efficacy profile to the neuraminidase inhibitor Oseltamivir,” the researchers wrote. “Its availability as over-the-counter medicine allows for a very early treatment start, which is central for treatment success with any intervention. Further studies are warranted.”
More effective than pharmaceuticals
For the new study, researchers compared the “gold standard” antiviral drug oseltamivir (trade name Tamiflu) with Echinaforce Hotdrink syrup, an extract made from freshly harvested Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea; 95 percent herb and 5 percent root) and European elderberry (Sambucus nigra).
The randomized, double-blind, multi-center study was conducted on 473 participants who had been showing influenza symptoms for less than 48 hours. All participants were recruited from primary care offices in the Czech Republic and were assigned to either take Echinaforce Hotdrink for ten days or Tamiflu for five days followed by a placebo for five days.
Participants were classified as “recovered” if their influenza symptoms were rated as mild or absent on the evening of any given day. Among patients on Tamiflu, 4.1 percent were recovered after one day, 48.8 percent after five days, and 84.8 percent after 10 days. Recovery was similar but slightly higher among those taking the Echinacea extract, with 1.5 percent recovered after one day, 50.2 percent recovered after five, and 90.1 percent recovered after ten. No statistically significant difference was seen between the two groups in terms of extra doctor visits, use of over-the-counter drugs, antibiotics or “ability to return to normal daily activities.” Patients and doctors reported the two treatments as equally effective.
Similar results were seen between patients with clinically diagnosed influenza and those whose disease had been laboratory-diagnosed.
The rate of influenza complications among those who took Echinaforce Hotdrink was 2.46 percent, lower than the 6.45 percent rate among those who took Tamiflu. The Echinacea extract also produced fewer side effects, notably less nausea and vomiting than Tamiflu. Some of the participants assigned to Tamiflu had to cease treatment due to gastrointestinal disorders; this did not occur in the Echinaforce group.
“Echinaforce Hotdrink is as effective as Oseltamivir in the early treatment of clinically diagnosed and virologically confirmed influenza virus infections with a reduced risk of complications and adverse events,” the researchers concluded.
One of largest studies yet
Echinacea is one of the world’s most popular herbal remedies, and is most well known for its immune-boosting properties. According to Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, the new study is one of the largest to support Echinacea‘s use for immune support.
“This is yet another significant human clinical trial that helps to document the clinical benefits of this specific Swiss [E]chinacea extract,” Blumenthal said.
Echinacea is native to North America and was first used as a medicine by the indigenous people of the Great Plains. It is also known as black Sampson, Sampson root, purple cone flower and red sunflower.
In addition to helping prevent and treat colds and flus, Echinacea has been shown to have antibiotic and antifungal properties. Its immune-boosting effects may also benefit chemotherapy patients and slow tumor growth.
Echinacea can also be used as a gargle for sore throats, or topically for skin problems, insect stings and minor injuries. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
The herb is available in a wide variety of forms, including extracts, tinctures, lozenges and pills.