Echinacea is an herbal dietary supplement that, like countless others, is touted to be an effective method of preventing and perhaps even treating the common cold. However, recent studies are showing that this supplement may not be as effective as was once believed. Are we doomed to suffer with the common cold every season without fail or is there really something we can do to improve immune system function? The answer may actually surprise you. The Rise in Popularity Clinical studies on Echinacea didn’t really take shape until about a decade ago when two separate studies provided contradictory results within the period of just a few years. The first study, a double-blind University of Virginia School of Medicine project, found that the herb did little to stop the symptoms of the common cold or shorten its duration. However, in 2007, a University of Connecticut study found that the herb cut the chances of catching a cold by more than half and lessened the duration of colds by about one and a half days. So, which is the truth? Is Echinacea a cure-all product that will boost immune system function or a waste of your time and money? Echinacea: Hero or Hype? In the middle of the last decade, millions of people all over the world were buying Echinacea with the hopes of preventing and treating their colds. After all, colds slow us down and keep us from enjoying our busy lifestyles, and we just don’t have time for them. However, as the herb grew more popular, physicians and researchers grew more skeptical. More studies were performed and, as it turns out, this supplement is certainly not the hero it was once thought to be. Repeated studies continue to suggest that it does little to prevent, treat or lessen the duration of the common cold. Don’t put that bottle of Echinacea back on the shelf just yet, though. The Usefulness of Echinacea Despite scientific studies, many people still believe that the supplement truly does help them feel better faster—or that it can provide enough immune support to fight off the nasty germs before any symptoms appear at all. Some scientists believe that this is a classic ‘placebo effect’, but this shouldn’t faze you if you feel that the herb really helps you feel better. In fact, additional studies have shown that the herb may actually help to increase white blood cells; lending credibility to it’s potential as an immune booster but confusing consumers in the process, nonetheless. Other studies are still underway to determine whether or not it is effective in treating conditions such as the flu and even yeast infections. What Can We Do? Our busy lifestyles simply don’t allow us to be bogged down with a runny nose, fever and cough. There are jobs to be done, money to be earned, children who need our attention and a million other things that demand our time daily. When taken as directed, Echinacea does not have any noted side effects; it has been shown to have some laxative properties in larger doses, however. To prevent and treat the common cold, we should follow the standard procedures that our doctors have been drilling into our heads for more than a century: drink plenty of fluids, treat fevers with over the counter medications and wash our hands often. So while there isn’t yet a universal answer, if you believe Echinacea works for you, then there is no harm in continuing to use it. At the end of the day, the mentality of prevention and boosting the immune system is a far better strategy than trying to cure the cold or flu or any other villain attacking our better health. That’s for sure!