Echinacea Schmechinacea: NY Times Report Ignores Existing Literature

A study by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine concludes that there is no scientific evidence that Echinacea is helpful in combating colds.

As noted in a press release by the American Botanical Council, “This is not a definitive trial on the efficacy of echinacea, nor should the results be generalized to echinacea preparations widely available. Unfortunately, the inevitable conclusion that may be drawn by some media who report this study may state that ‘echinacea is ineffective,’ but this would be an incorrect conclusion based on the design of this study and the evidence in the existing literature.”

While NBN believes ABC has it right, we aren’t really qualified to talk about science. What we can comment on, without a doubt, is the shoddy work done by the New York Times writer, Gina Kolata. Kolata’s story failed to address any previous research on the herb, especially research by Germany’s Commission E showing that two varieties of echinacea were proven to be effective in stimulating immune response.

Furthermore, as noted in the American Botanical Council’s web site, but erringly lacking from the New York Times story, is the fact that the disparity in results from the German study may have been due to the fact that there are a “variety of echinacea preparations derived from either one plant or plant part or a variety of plant parts (root, leaf, flower, seed) from various species (E. purpurea, E. pallida, E. angustifolia).

As noted in the ABC web site, the German report illustrated that “it is necessary to clarify which plants and plant parts were used in each clinical trial.” See http://www.herbalgram.org

While the Times story does note that one of the report’s scientists urged further study on different varieties and preparations and stated that he does use echinacea and will continue to do so, the overall emphasis of the story is that Echinacea doesn’t work, not more research needs to be done.
The media’s lack of diligence in presenting a full understanding of the relevance of scientific research is just another example of shoddy reporting that leaves the industry with a bloodied nose from what is likely, inconclusive evidence based on incomplete science.

Clearly the media functions at many levels. Presenting complicated science surely isn’t one of them.

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