Echinacea Supplements Vary Widely, But Clear of Contaminants

Echinacea is a top selling herbal supplement used to prevent and treat colds, but a recent analysis by ConsumerLab.com pointed out the difficulty in comparing marketed products.  In addition to a wide variation in listed ingredients (products vary by echinacea species, plant part, formulation and dosage), there is a lack of scientific clarity regarding the most effective type of product and the most appropriate chemical markers of quality.

ConsumerLab.com was able to determine, through testing, that none of the products selected for testing were contaminated with lead, arsenic, chlorinated pesticides or microbes.  However, four of the nine selected products lacked sufficient label information to identify how much echinacea they contained.  ConsumerLab.com categorized the remaining products by the type of echinacea listed, commenting on the amount of clinical support for such preparations.

Tod Cooperman, MD
President, ConsumerLab.com


--  New Report Guides Consumers Through Wide Range of Dosage, Species, Preparations, and Formulas in Echinacea Products --

WHITE PLAINS, NY — June 30, 2010 — Echinacea may help prevent colds and cold-symptoms, but choosing a supplement is difficult due to the range of ingredients offered.  To provide consumers guidance, ConsumerLab.com selected and tested a variety of echinacea supplements for adults and children. It found none of the products contaminated with heavy metals, pesticides, or microbes that can occur in some herbs. However, four products lacked sufficient information for consumers to know the amount of echinacea they contain.  ConsumerLab.com categorized the remaining products by the type of echinacea listed, commenting on the amount of clinical support for such preparations.

Echinacea is among the top selling herbal supplements, with sales up 7% in 2009 to $132 million, according to Nutrition Business Journal.  While there are three species of echinacea used medicinally, Echinacea purpurea is the most commonly used in clinical trials, with preparations typically consisting of extracts of the above-ground portions (stem, leaf, and flower) of the plant. Root preparations with E. angustifolia and E. pallida have also been used with some limited success. However, the chemical constituents responsible for echinacea’s effects have not been well established.

ConsumerLab.com found enormous variation in ingredients among products reviewed, and listed daily amounts of echinacea ranged from just 25 mg to over 1,600 mg for extracts and to as much as 3,600 mg for dried herb powders.

According to Mark Blumenthal, Founder & Executive Director of the American Botanical Council, “Of all of the popular herbs in the U.S. market, the clinical research on echinacea is probably the most challenging to interpret due to the range of preparations used, yielding positive as well as negative results. However, the research does support the use of certain echinacea preparations for either prevention or treatment of upper respiratory symptoms associated with colds and flus.”

Dr. William Obermeyer, ConsumerLab.com’s Vice President for Research and a former FDA scientist, commented that, “More clinical trials with better chemically characterized echinacea will help improve our understanding of what echinacea does and our ability to identify quality products.”

The new Product Review of Echinacea Supplements provides test results for sixteen supplements — nine selected by ConsumerLab.com and seven tested at the request of their manufacturers/distributors through CL's Voluntary Certification Program and included for having met the quality criteria for contaminants.  Also listed are two products similar to one that passed contamination testing but are sold under different brand names. Brands included in the report are Dinosaurs Jurassic Echinacea, Gaia Herbs, GNC, Herb Pharm, Herbs for Kids, ImmuGo, Life Extension, Li’l Critters, MMS, Nature Made, Nature’s Bounty, Planetary Herbals, Puritan’s Pride, Rite Aid, Solgar, Spring Valley, Swanson, and Vitamin World. In addition to test results, the report reviews and compares the amounts of echinacea and other ingredients in the products.


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