Monday, February 22, 2010

Nine Miler, Cold & Echinacea

On Saturday I had a nice run. Longest run of the year thus far, a crisp nine mile effort at 7:59 per mile pace with negative split on the back half. And this was over a very hilly terrain.

Locals can review the route I took at GarminConnect.

I was duly impressed as the hills came and went without really any effort. After the injury plagued run year in 2009, I am well on course to rebound with my run effort in 2010.

I was neither overdressed or underdressed for this run which was at 33-degrees F under blue sky. But I did work up a lather. And by Saturday night I knew a head cold was coming on.

I took the day off on Sunday and started in on my old remedy of Echinacea.

Echinacea species are herbaceous, drought-tolerant perennial plants growing up to 140 cm in height. We have a ton growing in our many gardens. If you live in the upper midwest, you have seen the plant which is also known as coneflower and comes in many colors and varieties.

Echinacea is popularly believed to be an immunostimulator, stimulating the body's non-specific immune system and warding off infections. A study commonly used to support that belief is a 2007 meta-analysis in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. The studies pooled in the meta-analysis used different types of echinacea, different parts of the plant, and various dosages. The review did not inform recommendations on the efficacy of any particular type of Echinacea, dosage, or treatment regimen. The safety of Echinacea under long-term use is also unknown.

A 2007 study by the University of Connecticut combined findings from 14 previously-reported trials examining Echinacea and concluded that Echinacea can cut the chances of catching a cold by more than half, and shorten the duration of a cold by an average of 1.4 days.

However, Dr. Wallace Sampson, an editor of Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine and a Stanford University emeritus clinical professor of medicine, says that the referenced trials lack the similarities necessary to provide definitive results when combined into one report. “If you have studies that measure different things, there is no way to correct for that. These researchers tried, but you just can’t do it.”

A controlled double-blind study from the University of Virginia School of Medicine and documented in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that Echinacea extracts had "no clinically significant effects" on rates of infection or duration or intensity of symptoms. The effects held when the herb was taken immediately following infectious viral exposure and when taken as a prophylaxis starting a week prior to exposure. In a press release, Dr. Michael Murray, the Director of Education for Factors Group of Nutritional Companies, a manufacturer of Echinacea-related products, called the study "faulty and inaccurate."

According to Dr. Murray, none of the three extracts used on the 399 study participants contained all three of the components of Echinacea responsible for its immune-enhancing effects: polysaccharides, alkylamides and cichoric acid. In addition, Dr. Murray said "the standard dosage for dried Echinacea angustifolia root is normally three grams per day or more and this study used less than one gram."

An earlier University of Maryland review based on 13 European studies concluded that Echinacea, when taken at first sign of a cold, reduced cold symptoms or shortened their duration.

Where did this theory all start? Echinacea angustifolia was widely used by the North American Plains Indians for its general medicinal qualities. Echinacea was one of the basic antimicrobial herbs of eclectic medicine from the mid 19th century through the early 20th century, and its use was documented for snakebite, anthrax, and for relief of pain. In the 1930s Echinacea became popular in both Europe and America as a herbal medicine. According to Wallace Sampson, MD, its modern day use as a treatment for the common cold began when a Swiss herbal supplement maker was "erroneously told" that Echinacea was used for cold prevention by Native American tribes who lived in the area of South Dakota. Although Native American tribes didn't use Eechinacea to prevent the common cold, some of the tribes did use Echinacea to treat some of the symptoms that could be caused by the common cold: The Kiowa used it for coughs and sore throats, the Cheyenne for sore throats, the Pawnee for headaches, and many tribes used it as an analgesic, including the Sioux from South Dakota.

Native Americans learned of E. angustifolia by observing elk seeking out the plants and consuming them when sick or wounded, and identified those plants as elk root.

So, whether it is to be believed or not....I don't care. I know it works for me. How about you? What do you do or reach for when you first feel a cold coming on? Leave a comment and share your secrets with your triathlon brethren.

1 comment:

Adam Beston said...

It can also increase your EPO (prolly not but here are some links that might interest you). Abstract first.
Layman article.