Echinacea combo may prevent kids’ colds: study

An herbal mixture of echinacea, propolis and vitamin C may lessen the blow of cold season for young children, a new study suggests.

Israeli researchers found that children who took the herbal elixir for 12 weeks had less than half the number of colds that children given a placebo did. Overall, 89 percent of children in the placebo group had at least one upper-respiratory infection during the study, compared with 53 percent in the herbal group.

The herbal mixture, sold as Chizukit in Israel, provides equal doses of echinacea and propolis, plus a small shot of vitamin C. Echinacea, which is derived from the coneflower, has long been touted as an immunity-boosting cold fighter. Propolis is a waxy substance that honeybees take from plants to do home repair on their hives; research suggests it can battle both viruses and inflammation.

Although echinacea is one of the best-studied herbal remedies, the evidence is inconsistent. Some test-tube and animal studies have shown the herb can affect immune cell activity, but clinical trials of whether echinacea can treat or prevent colds have yielded conflicting results.

The new findings, published in the March issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, contrast with those of a study released in December. In that study of children ages 2 to 11, researchers found that echinacea, when taken at the first sign of a cold, did not shorten the duration of illness or make symptoms less severe.

This latest study focused on prevention. Researchers randomly assigned 430 children ages 1 to 5 to take either Chizukit elixir or a placebo twice a day for three months. In the end, parents in the herbal group reported far fewer runny noses and coughs than those in the placebo group did.

Still, researchers say it’s too soon to start recommending Chizukit-or the widely available ingredients that make it up-for routine use.

“Additional studies are needed in larger samples to confirm our findings,” conclude Dr. Herman A. Cohen, of the Pediatric and Adolescent Ambulatory Community Clinic in Petach Tikva, and his colleagues. Research, they add, needs to rule out the risk of adverse effects, particularly in children with allergies or other medical conditions.

Dr. Shilpa Sangvai of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh agrees on the need for further research. She told Reuters Health that while this study “showed some promising results,” it left certain questions unanswered.

The study, she pointed out, lacked information on the children’s “baseline characteristics” that could sway their risk of colds, such as whether they were in daycare or were exposed to cigarette smoke.

Sangvai, who co-authored a commentary published with the report, said future studies should account for such factors. She and her colleagues also point out that nearly one quarter of the 430 children in the study dropped out during the first week, and were not included in the final analysis.

SOURCE: Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, March 2004.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD