Can Echinacea Rival Tamiflu as Flu Treatment?


2015-06-23 15:27

Echinacea is an herb that has long been the subject of controversy concerning its healing abilities, especially involving the upper respiratory tract infections such as the common cold and the flu. Now a new comparative study published in Current Therapeutic Research suggests that Echinacea is as effective against flu viruses as oseltamivir, also known as Tamiflu.

Influenza is a tremendous threat and challenge every year. According to the World Health Organization, seasonal flu epidemics are associated with about 3 to 5 million severe cases per year and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths.

Tamiflu is one medication that is frequently prescribed to help alleviate symptoms of the flu. However, some research indicates that using this medication, which is associated with side effects such as nausea and vomiting, is not worth the cost or effort when compared with natural approaches.

In a new randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial, an Echinacea (E. purpurea) formula was compared with Tamiflu. (For the record, the makers of the formula, called Echinaforce Hotdrink, sponsored the study, and three of the five authors have some type of relationship with the company.)

A total of 473 individuals who had early symptoms of flu were randomly assigned to receive either oseltamivir for five days followed by placebo for another five days, or ten days of the Echinacea formula. The formula is a syrup that consists of the herb and root of Echinacea plus European elderberry (Sambucus nigra).

Here’s what the investigators found:

  • Recovery from the flu was similar between the two groups (Echinacea remedy and Tamiflu): 1.5% vs. 4.1% after one day, 50.2% vs 48.8% after 5 days, and 90.1% vs. 84.8% after 10 days of treatment, respectively
  • Individuals who took the Echinacea remedy had a lesser incidence of complications and fewer adverse events than those who took the oseltamivir. Specifically, 11.4% of Echinacea users and 13.9% of oseltamivir users had side effects, most gastrointestinal in nature. Nausea and vomiting were reported by 15 patients taking oseltamivir and 3 taking Echinacea.

Based on the study results, individuals may want to take another look at their flu treatment options. The authors concluded that the “availability [of the Echinacea product] as over-the-counter medicine allows for a very early treatment start, which is central for treatment success with any intervention” for flu.

Also read about red ginseng for flu

Reference
Raus K et al. Echinaforce Hotdrink versus oseltamivir in influenza: a randomized, double-bind, double dummy, multicenter, non-inferiority clinical trial. Current Therapeutic Research 2015 in press.