Daily News: Disease

Echinacea Helps Your Immune System Ward Off the Common Cold

Tulsa World

02-25-13

Dear Pharmacist

I've got a cold, and I've sneezed about a hundred times today! Should I start taking echinacea, and will it help me with the sneezing?

--A.T., Sanibel, Florida

Answer: It's the season for the common cold with over 1 billion cases of it in the United States each year.

Sneezing is perhaps the most annoying symptom of all. Most people don't realize sneezing is actually your neurological process. Dust, a change in temperature, or even a bright light can cause impulses to build up in the "sneezing center" of the brain. Signals are then transmitted to nerve endings and ahh choo, the reflex of a sneeze occurs. It's actually a protective mechanism for your body. Tell that to the person who gets wet from your spewing mucus right? Most gesundheits clock in around 35 mph! And no, echinacea won't stop sneezing, but it does have other virtues.

Don't be terribly quick to cool a fever, it's your body's way of heating up the germs to kill them. Prevention is ideal. Stop touching germy objects such as doorknobs, cell phones, or escalator and staircase handrails. Airports, subways, malls and pharmacies are loaded with germs because so many people frequent them. I recommend gloves when you frequent these places. Think of it as a fashion statement for your immune system.

Medicine helps. If you have a stuffy nose, pseudoephedrine is helpful, or a nasal spray. For a non-productive cough, dextromethorphan can help. If you have a runny nose, diphenhydramine can be taken at bedtime, or loratadine for a non-drowsy option. Remember, over-the-counter drugs don't shorten duration, but they do ease symptoms.

Echinacea purpurea is a perennial flower native to eastern North America that wakes up the immune system to help you fight infections. We've just learned that daily consumption of echinacea may help stave off the common cold. A large study done by Cardiff University in the United Kingdom demonstrated that taking echinacea for four months significantly decreases your likelihood of catching cold; it may also shave time off your illness by 26 percent. The study also showed that these preventive effects continued to increase with regular echinacea consumption, something that is new to our thinking. You see, many clinicians think echinacea is best when cycled for a few weeks on, then a few weeks off (as opposed to taking it routinely).

Ask your doctor if echinacea is right for you, and what your dose should be. For immune system maintenance, you might see doses around 300 mg twice per day. You can also drink echinacea tea for a lower dose. Keep in mind, some people are allergic to this botanical class, and also, echinacea is rarely recommended for people with auto-immune disorders as it can trigger flare-ups.

So, as flu and cold season continues, consider echinacea as well as probiotics, which improve your body's own natural killer cells. Naturally, vitamin C and zinc should be part of your arsenal.

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