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Is Echinacea effective against cold and flu symptoms?

We noticed a post on our forum asking if Echinacea can help beat cold and flu, and fight against the cold sore virus: so we asked Nutritional Scientist Toral Shah if there was any truth behind the claims…

“Most peer-reviewed studies say it’s not. If anything there are negative results, as in nothing happens. There are some studies that report a couple of positives against colds but definitely not flu.

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Echinacea is thought to be immune-boosting, but a lot of this is placebo effect because it feels like you’re helping to combat your symptoms. A lot of people will have it with honey and lemon and it’s something I’ve done myself. The warming effect will at least make it feel like you’re doing something, which may help you feel better to some extent.

In terms of actual scientific evidence: our immune system doesn’t have much of an arsenal against viruses anyway. Antibiotics only work against bacteria, there isn’t much anti-viral medication available yet. The thing with the flu virus is that it changes and mutates very quickly, which is why the flu vaccination has to change every single year. 

There are quite a few Cochrane studies that used randomised trials to statistically measure the effect of Echinacea. A Cochrane review looked at 16 different double-blind trials (meaning no participants knew if they were taking the Echinacea or not) and all tests conclusively shown it had no positive results or made any difference towards cold, flu or any viruses. The studies are replicated year after year and unfortunately, there is just zero evidence that Echinacea has an effect.   

A lot of the assumed knowledge about Echinacea is hearsay, that was popularised by salespeople in the 1800’s. It just keeps resurfacing, and every time scientific studies show there is no truth behind it! To summarise, Echinacea isn’t effective against flu or cold sores.”

Toral Shah is a nutritional scientist and chef, with an MSc in Nutritional Medicine from the University of Surrey. She heads up the Urban Kitchen (urbankitchen.co.uk) featuring recipes and nutritional advice, and is represented by Sports Sphere.  

If you have any other queries related to training, illness or nutrition, email us at info [at] road.cc or start a thread on our forum, and we’ll try to get an expert to answer. 

After cobbling together a few hundred quid during his student days off the back of a hard winter selling hats (long story), Jack bought his first road bike at the age of 20 and has been hooked ever since. He was Staff Writer at 220 Triathlon magazine for two years before joining road.cc in 2017, and reports on all things tech as well as editing the road.cc live blog. He is also the news editor of our electric-powered sister site eBikeTips. Jack's preferred events are time trials, sportives, triathlons and pogo sticking (the latter being another long story), and on Sunday afternoons he can often be found on an M5 service station indulging in his favourite post-race meal of 20 chicken nuggets, a sausage roll, caramel shortbread and a large strawberry milkshake. 

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