I thought the NEJM report on the NCCAM supported study of echinacea would be the last word on the use of this herbal product for the prevention and treatment of the common cold. DB apparently thought so too. The study, which tested several different extracts of the plant found no benefit in treatment or prevention. Moreover, there was no observed effect on virus titers or on inflammatory markers in nasal secretions. Despite the longstanding popularity of echinacea the NEJM paper points out that systematic reviews of previous studies had failed to demonstrate effectiveness.
So isn’t that enough? With no plausible mechanism of action, no effect on surrogate markers of the disease and no clinical evidence of efficacy in high level studies what could possibly drive further study? NCCAM’s answer is consumer demand to do something about the common cold, coupled with echinacea’s popularity. They apparently intend to throw more of your tax dollars into echinacea. The fall/winter edition of their newsletter article on echinacea concludes with “NCCAM will continue to support research on echinacea. A number of smaller studies are currently under way. This research is being done both because of the public health burden of the common cold and the public's widespread use of echinacea. A recent survey of CAM use by U.S. adults found echinacea is the most commonly used natural product.”
Maybe this is one more example in support of Dr. Wallace Sampson’s position that the NCCAM should be defunded.