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Study finds Echinacea useless for colds


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39 replies to this topic

#1 of 40 ONLINE   RobertR

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Posted July 28 2005 - 06:33 AM

http://www.latimes.c....ck=1&cset=true

I have no doubt this won’t dissuade “true believers”, but as the article says, good science speaks for itself and enough is enough.

#2 of 40 OFFLINE   D. Scott MacDonald

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Posted July 28 2005 - 07:56 AM

I thought that a study several years ago already proved this. On the other hand, another study found that zinc provided a small benefit, but only if taken consistently every four hours or so from the time that the cold first starts.
Scott

#3 of 40 OFFLINE   Mort Corey

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Posted July 28 2005 - 08:22 AM

Not registered with the LA Times so couldn't read the article, but that stuff sure does dry up my sinuses (mouth and everything else) for some reason when I've taken it in the past. Haven't had a cold in the last four or so years so I haven't had the occasion to take it in a while.

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#4 of 40 OFFLINE   Chris Lockwood

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Posted July 28 2005 - 08:30 AM

You can "prove" anything with a study. Aren't there studies showing cigarettes are good for you?

#5 of 40 OFFLINE   JeremyErwin

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Posted July 28 2005 - 08:37 AM

Here's the abstract from The New England Journal of Medicine (full text costs $10)

Quote:
An Evaluation of Echinacea angustifolia in Experimental Rhinovirus Infections
Ronald B. Turner, M.D., Rudolf Bauer, Ph.D., Karin Woelkart, Thomas C. Hulsey, D.Sc., and J. David Gangemi, Ph.D.

Background Echinacea has been widely used as an herbal remedy for the common cold, but efficacy studies have produced conflicting results, and there are a variety of echinacea products on the market with different phytochemical compositions. We evaluated the effect of chemically defined extracts from Echinacea angustifolia roots on rhinovirus infection.

Methods Three preparations of echinacea, with distinct phytochemical profiles, were produced by extraction from E. angustifolia roots with supercritical carbon dioxide, 60 percent ethanol, or 20 percent ethanol. A total of 437 volunteers were randomly assigned to receive either prophylaxis (beginning seven days before the virus challenge) or treatment (beginning at the time of the challenge) either with one of these preparations or with placebo. The results for 399 volunteers who were challenged with rhinovirus type 39 and observed in a sequestered setting for five days were included in the data analysis.

Results There were no statistically significant effects of the three echinacea extracts on rates of infection or severity of symptoms. Similarly, there were no significant effects of treatment on the volume of nasal secretions, on polymorphonuclear leukocyte or interleukin-8 concentrations in nasal-lavage specimens, or on quantitative-virus titer.

Conclusions The results of this study indicate that extracts of E. angustifolia root, either alone or in combination, do not have clinically significant effects on infection with a rhinovirus or on the clinical illness that results from it.

"Challenged with rhinovirus type 39..." That sounds fun!

Here's a link to the new york times (no registration required).

Quote:
But in an editorial accompanying Dr. Turner's paper, Dr. Wallace Sampson, editor of The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, which analyzes alternative-medicine claims, said there was no reason to have believed that echinacea was effective against colds in the first place. In the early 20th century, echinacea "somehow became popular for the treatment of respiratory illness in Germany," Dr. Sampson wrote, while in the United States it was used for wound healing and other purposes for which today people would take an antibiotic. Its use faded away when real antibiotics were discovered, but it re-emerged in the 1960's as a cold remedy, with no particular reason to think it would work.


#6 of 40 ONLINE   RobertR

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Posted July 28 2005 - 08:42 AM

Quote:
You can "prove" anything with a study. Aren't there studies showing cigarettes are good for you?

Chris,

Saying some studies are flawed is far from a sufficient critique of this one. What specific criticisms do you have of their methodology? It looks sound to me.

#7 of 40 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted July 28 2005 - 09:02 AM

Quote:
You can "prove" anything with a study. Aren't there studies showing cigarettes are good for you?



The short answers - no you can't and yes there are, but I still wouldn't smoke.

The long answer:

You can only 'prove' anything with a study if the study is badly constructed or downright fraudulent. If a study is properly controlled and the sampling is correct, then it should be accurate. By 'properly controlled' we mean that in addition to the experimental question being asked, other possibile explanations have been addressed. The classic case is studying effects of drug treatments. Suppose you have drug X that is supposed to cure disease Y. The most obvious experiment is to give a bunch of people drug X and see if they get better. Obvious, but wrong. Even if the participants all get better, you haven't proved that X cured Y because the participants could have got better even if they hadn't been treated. So then you run a study where you look at people with disease Y, and only treat half of them with X. Then you see who gets better. If you find that the untreated group don't get better but the group receiving X do, you still haven't proved that X cures Y, because there could be a placebo effect. Therefore, you redo the experiment, this time with a no treatment, a placebo treatment and drug X treatment. Suppose you find that only the drug X group get better. You still haven't proved that X cures Y because perhaps the people observing the patients are biased and so classify the participants they know are getting X as better, even though objectively there is no difference. Therefore, you have to redo the experiment yet again, this time running a double blind procedure (where neither the participants nor the observers know which group anyone belongs to).
You will appreciate that I am describing a simple experiment - the more complex ones are of course a lot more convoluted. In many instances you not only have to deal with the experimental variables in front of you but also have to allow for confounding variables. A simple example - suppose that you find that obesity in linked to a disease. Can you say that being overweight is the prime cause of the disease? No - because obesity is associated with many other factors, such as lack of exercise, social class (the lower the socio-economic group, the higher the proportion of overweight people), etc. So obesity may only be associated with the disease, not cause it.
And then you have the issue of sampling. You can't usually test the entire population of people with a particular medical condition, so you therefore take a sample and then conduct statistical analyses to see if what you find in the sample is likely to be true of the population from which it's drawn. However, unless your sample is accurate to begin with and also you are good at choosing the right statistical techniques (and in my experience medics aren't terribly good at this) then the results are likely to be faulty.
Which all leads to the conclusion that if everything is done properly, then the results should be accurate, but there are potentialy pitfalls. However, that is not the same as saying that you can prove anything with a study.

There is also the argument that some people seem to buck the trend. Although a study says one thing for the general population, they are the reverse. This in no way disproves the validity of a study. Statistics usually only tells us what is true for a group. Exceptions to most things can be expected. For example, I have a naturally 'high' temperature - that doesn't disprove statements about what is a normal temperature range.

#8 of 40 OFFLINE   Chu Gai

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Posted July 28 2005 - 11:20 AM

How silly. Everyone knows you starve a cold and feed a fever!

#9 of 40 OFFLINE   BrianW

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Posted July 28 2005 - 12:30 PM

Quote:
Saying some studies are flawed is far from a sufficient critique of this one.
Robert, what are you talking about? Everyone knows that merely referencing a bad example in a set, even without specificity, obviates the supposed virtues of all other members of that set. It is a debating technique that -- like ad hominem attacks, straw man arguments, and mooning -- cannot be countered.

Example:

Proposed: "My wife is very smart."

Counter Argument 1: "Oh, yeah? My sister is stupid, so all girls are stupid, so your wife is stupid."

See? You can't argue with logic!

----------------------------------------

Quote:
Everyone knows you starve a cold and feed a fever!
Actually, my understanding is that this is not a recipe for treatment, but an admonishment: If you starve a cold, it will get worse, and you'll end up feeding a fever -- much like, "A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips." In other words, it's not what you should do, it's what you should avoid.

In any case, I doubt whether this admonishment is worth heeding. Everyone knows that all such sayings are just made up stuff that never works. Posted Image
-Brian
Come, Rubidia. Let's blow this epoch.

#10 of 40 ONLINE   RobertR

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Posted July 28 2005 - 01:38 PM

Quote:
You can't argue with logic!
Posted Image That reminds me of Fonzi's flawed logic in a Happy Days episode:

Fonzie: My fiance is a virgin.

Richie: How do you know?

Fonzie: She told me.

Richie: Maybe she lied.

Fonzie: Virgins don't lie.

#11 of 40 OFFLINE   Chu Gai

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Posted July 28 2005 - 11:32 PM

There was a Virgin's Day parade in New York but no one showed up. One girl was sick and the other didn't want to go without her friend Posted Image

#12 of 40 OFFLINE   John Alvarez

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Posted July 29 2005 - 04:03 AM

Was this a Plackett Burman D.O.E. with full factoral and no confounding factors? What were the factors and how many variables?

Please someone give me some answers.....Posted Image
Just send me the Minitab files.

#13 of 40 OFFLINE   Garrett Lundy

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Posted July 29 2005 - 04:07 AM

Cigarettes may cure Alzheimers! read more HERE
"Did you know that more people are murdered at 92 degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once. Lower temperatures, people are easy-going, over 92 and it's too hot to move, but just 92, people get irritable."

#14 of 40 OFFLINE   Ted Lee

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Posted July 29 2005 - 05:41 AM

this is very interesting news to me. when i start getting a sore-throat, i go on a super-ech regimen -- taking about two full dropper-things with a small amount of oj (or water if i don't have anything else) every 4 hours (or so).

it has worked so well in the past that i don't plan on stopping anytime soon. within a day or two, my sore throat is gone.

now, i've always known it could be a psycho-somatic (sp?) response, but do i care? nope...not one bit. as long as the end result is a non-sore throat, then i'm a happy camper.

but now knowing about this test ... it'll be interesting to see what happens next time.
 

#15 of 40 OFFLINE   Dome Vongvises

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Posted July 29 2005 - 07:59 AM

Scientific study gives me a headache. That's why I don't do research. I applaud all the scientists out there who are willing to take up the task of publishing papers. Too many damn loops to jump through. On the other hand, they do use slave labor aka graduate students. Posted Image

Back on topic, I'm still looking for that scientifically sound alternative medicine fad. I don't think it's going to happen soon.

#16 of 40 OFFLINE   MarkHastings

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Posted July 29 2005 - 08:15 AM

Quote:
it has worked so well in the past that i don't plan on stopping anytime soon. within a day or two, my sore throat is gone.
but aren't most sore throats supposed to go away after a few days?

I think that's why people think some of this stuff works. You take something and your symptoms go away, but most symptoms do go away, so wouldn't it make sense that ANYTHING you take would make you better?

Example: The next time you get a sore throat, eat clam strips for 3 days straight and I bet your sore throat goes away.
Quote:
Scientific study gives me a headache.
Try the clam strip routine and bet the headache goes away in 2 days.


p.s. Ted, I hope you don't take the above as a personal attack. I was just talking in general.

#17 of 40 OFFLINE   Ted Lee

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Posted July 29 2005 - 08:39 AM

Quote:
eat clam strips for 3 days straight
but then i'd be tired of clams! Posted Image
 

#18 of 40 OFFLINE   D. Scott MacDonald

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Posted July 29 2005 - 10:32 AM

Quote:
Try the clam strip routine and bet the headache goes away in 2 days.


Posted Image Funniest thing that I've read in a while.

My sore throats are generally gone in a day and a half regardless of what I do. As soon as one comes on, I know that it will be bad for 18 hours and then go away.

Quote:
You can "prove" anything with a study. Aren't there studies showing cigarettes are good for you?

I certainly understand the sentiment. Many studies are poorly done, or start with a premise and then pull whatever "data" they can out of their butts to prove it. However, it appears that this study is not one of them - it has been well documented, peer reviewed, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Certainly no "cigarettes are good for you" studies can say this.
Scott

#19 of 40 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted July 31 2005 - 06:14 AM

Quote:
On the other hand, they do use slave labor aka graduate students.

... and grad students are what give us academics a headache. Posted Image

#20 of 40 OFFLINE   TheoGB

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Posted July 31 2005 - 08:15 PM

Quote:
http://www.latimes.c...ack=1&cset=true

I have no doubt this won’t dissuade “true believers”, but as the article says, good science speaks for itself and enough is enough.

Why do you care, though? Is your wife spending $4000 a year on the stuff? Placebos can work so in that sense there's little wrong with someone using it if they believe that it will work, especially when we're talking about something as trivial as a common cold. Posted Image

I'd rather see the quacks from L'Oreal, Clinique, et al. driven out with their 'anti-ageing', 'free-radical'-blocking crap at 50x the cost of echinacea, to be honest... Posted Image


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