Scientists search for Echinacea’s medicinal secrets

Published 06 May 2009

echinacea-2With the season of colds and ‘flu approaching, scientists at the University of New England are searching for the secret of Echinacea’s apparent effectiveness in alleviating the symptoms of these winter ailments.

Dr Linda Agnew, who is coordinating the project, has already conducted research that has demonstrated that Echinacea can help to boost the human immune system. Dr Agnew, from UNE’s Centre for Bioactive Discovery in Health and Ageing, presented those results – amid much interest in Echinacea – at the first International Evidence-based Complementary Medicine Conference, held at UNE earlier this year.

“Echinacea is one of the most widely-used herbal medicines in the world,” Dr Agnew said. “There is considerable controversy, however, surrounding the extent of its effectiveness – and particularly its effectiveness in warding off colds if taken as a precaution.”

“We’ve studied the active components of Echinacea medications,” she explained, “and now, pursuing our evidence-based approach, we at UNE are trying to understand the mechanism behind the stimulatory effect on the immune system that we have found.”

In seeking this understanding, the researchers are calling for participants in a small-scale clinical trial to test the effects of an Echinacea medication – Echinacea Premium tablets – on the immune system.

“We’re looking for healthy men and women aged between 18 and 65,” she said, “and asking them to take Echinacea Premium tablets for a period of two weeks. The participants will be required to give fasting blood samples before and after the two-week trial.”

Dr Agnew added that Echinacea Premium was a high-quality, practitioner-only medication produced in Australia by MediHerb. “There’s considerable evidence that this product has a beneficial effect,” she said. “We want to know how it works.”

People interested in participating in the trial should contact Dr Agnew on (02) 6773 2631 (e-mail: lagnew2@une.edu.au) or Professor Ken Watson on (02) 6773 3125 (e-mail: kwatson2@une.edu.au).