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USA Today Publishes Story on New Echinacea Meta-Analysis

(Austin, Texas, June 25, 2007) On Friday, June 22, ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal was interviewed by Elizabeth Weise, a health reporter for USA Today1, about a new meta-analysis being published online today in the June 25 issue of the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, then to be printed in its July issue.2

This meta-analysis, conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy, was reported in September 2006 at the American College of Clinical Pharmacology annual conference by one of its authors, Sachin Shah, PharmD,3 and was summarized in an article in the Research Review section of the current issue of HerbalGram (#74).4 

In this meta-analysis 14 randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs) reporting data on the incidence or duration of upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) were reviewed, covering a total of 1,356 (incidence) and 1,630 (duration) participants, respectively. This review demonstrated that the echinacea preparations used in the respective trials in total decreased the odds of developing the common cold by 58% and the duration of a cold by 1.4 days. The authors concluded, “The totality of current evidence supports Echinacea’s benefit in decreasing the incidence and duration of the common cold.”

Consistent with its policy of qualifying data from unpublished trials, the HerbalGram review stated, “Although it is reportedly in press, since the results of this meta-analysis have yet to be published in a peer reviewed journal, it is possible that the statistical data may change upon additional rigorous analysis.” (Because ABC has not yet had an opportunity to review the new meta-analysis, it is not clear at this time to what extent, if any, the final publication’s results may have varied from those reported last year and summarized in HerbalGram.)

In the USA Today interview Blumenthal told Ms. Weise that ABC had recently published this story, covering the unpublished version of the meta-analysis in a review of 2 previous meta-analyses on echinacea clinical trials, all three of which concluded that when the data from various trials are pooled and reviewed together, the evidence suggests that various echinacea preparations do exert either preventive URTI or treat the symptoms of such, when compared to placebo. The first of these two meta-analyses covered 16 RCTs and was published by the Cochrane Collaboration,5 and the second analysis covered 3 trials on a specific echinacea preparation called Echinaforce®, made by the Swiss company Bioforce (aka A. Vogel).6

Blumenthal also told her that such collective data contradicts the often-repeated message in the media that “echinacea is ineffective,” a common statement since the publication of the high-profile clinical trial by Turner et al. in the New England Journal of Medicine [NEJM] in July 2005 in which relatively low doses of three different extracts made from the roots of Echinacea angustifolia were deemed ineffective in both preventing and treating URTIs in volunteers in which a rhinovirus preparation had been sprayed into their noses.7 ABC and others have criticized this trial for having used a dosage level that is about one-third the dosage recommended by the World Health Organization and the Canadian Natural Health Products Directorate, and a letter to the editor to NEJM from Blumenthal and Norman R. Farnsworth of the University of Illinois at Chicago was published in NEJM in 2005.8

The USA Today article mentions the interview with Blumenthal in the closing paragraph:

Mark Blumenthal, founder of the American Botanical Council, called the new analysis good news. "The bottom line is that despite some of the gloomy news that came out two summer ago when the New England Journal published its study — which came out negative probably because they used too low a dose — the data still consistently shows some benefits."1

The full text of the USA Today article can be accessed by clicking here.

Echinacea coverage also appeared in The Baltimore Sun, Bloomberg.com, Seattle Times, and The Olympian.

References

1 Weise E. Lancet: Echinacea does fight colds. USA Today, Mon. Jun. 25, 2007.

2 Shah SA, Sander S, White CM, Rinaldi M, Coleman CI. Evaluation of Echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold: a meta-analysis. The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 2007;7:473-480.

3 Shah SA, Sander S, White CM, Rinaldi M, Coleman CI. Evaluation of echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. [Abstract and poster]. Amer Coll Clin Pharmacol. Sept. 2006.

4 Blumenthal M, Milot B, Oliff HS. Three Systematic Reviews of Echinacea Clinical Trials Suggest Efficacy with Cold Symptoms. HerbalGram. 2007;74:28-31.

5 Linde K, Barrett B, Wolkart K, Bauer R, Melchart D. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold (review). The Cochrane Library. 2006;1:1-39.

6 Schoop R, Klein P, Suter A, Johnston S. Echinacea in the prevention of induced rhinovirus colds: a meta-analysis. Clin Ther. 2006;28(2):174-183.

7 Turner RB, Bauer R, Woelkart K, Hulsey TC, Gangemi JD. An evaluation of Echinacea angustifolia in experimental rhinovirus infections. N Engl J Med. 2005;353(4):341 348.8 Blumenthal M, Farnsworth NR. Echinacea angustifolia in rhinovirus infections [letter]. New England J Med. Nov. 3, 2005;35(18):1971.