We noticed a post on our forum asking if Echinacea can help beat cold and flu, and fight against the cold sore virus: so we asked Nutritional Scientist Toral Shah if there was any truth behind the claims. Here's what she told us.
“Most peer-reviewed studies say it’s not. If anything there are negative results, as in nothing happens. There are some studies that report a couple of positives against colds but definitely not flu.
"Echinacea is thought to be immune-boosting, but a lot of this is placebo effect because it feels like you’re helping to combat your symptoms. A lot of people will have it with honey and lemon and it’s something I’ve done myself. The warming effect will at least make it feel like you’re doing something, which may help you feel better to some extent.
"In terms of actual scientific evidence: our immune system doesn’t have much of an arsenal against viruses anyway. Antibiotics only work against bacteria, there isn’t much anti-viral medication available yet. The thing with the flu virus is that it changes and mutates very quickly, which is why the flu vaccination has to change every single year.
"There are quite a few Cochrane studies that used randomised trials to statistically measure the effect of Echinacea. A Cochrane review looked at 16 different double-blind trials (meaning no participants knew if they were taking the Echinacea or not) and all tests conclusively shown it had no positive results or made any difference towards cold, flu or any viruses. The studies are replicated year after year and unfortunately, there is just zero evidence that Echinacea has an effect.
"A lot of the assumed knowledge about Echinacea is hearsay, that was popularised by salespeople in the 1800’s. It just keeps resurfacing, and every time scientific studies show there is no truth behind it! To summarise, Echinacea isn’t effective against flu or cold sores.”
Toral Shah is a nutritional scientist and chef, with an MSc in Nutritional Medicine from the University of Surrey. She heads up the Urban Kitchen (urbankitchen.co.uk) featuring recipes and nutritional advice, and is represented by Sports Sphere.
If you have any other queries related to training, illness or nutrition, email us at info [at] road.cc or start a thread on our forum, and we’ll try to get an expert to answer.
Arriving at road.cc in 2017 via 220 Triathlon Magazine, Jack dipped his toe in most jobs on the site and over at eBikeTips before being named the new editor of road.cc in 2020, much to his surprise. His cycling life began during his students days, when he cobbled together a few hundred quid off the back of a hard winter selling hats (long story) and bought his first road bike - a Trek 1.1 that was quickly relegated to winter steed, before it was sadly pinched a few years later. Creatively replacing it with a Trek 1.2, Jack mostly rides this bike around local cycle paths nowadays, but when he wants to get the racer out and be competitive his preferred events are time trials, sportives, triathlons and pogo sticking - the latter being another long story.