GRAEDONS | People's Herbal Pharmacy Echinacea: no panacea against common cold

Q. My sister recently visited me with a bad cold and introduced me to echinacea. I now take it three times a day to prevent colds. What do you think about it? Are there any other natural cold remedies I can use?
A. Echinacea has been a disappointment. Although it has been the best-selling herbal remedy against the common cold, the evidence supporting it has been thin. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (July 28, 2005) showed that echinacea-root extract was ineffective at preventing experimental colds. Nearly 400 volunteers had cold viruses sprayed into their noses, but those getting echinacea extract fared no better than those on placebo. Two other herbs that may eventually prove more promising are Andrographis paniculata (available in a standardized formulation called Kold Kare) and Astragalus membranaceus. Both are Chinese herbs. Preliminary research suggests they may help, but other well-controlled studies are needed.
Q. What can you tell me about red-yeast rice? My doctor recommended this cholesterol-lowering supplement instead of prescription medicine. Can I continue to eat grapefruit every morning if I decide to try it?
A. Red-yeast rice contains some lovastatin, the ingredient in the prescription drug Mevacor. There are also other statinlike compounds in this dietary supplement.
Because of such ingredients, we think you should avoid grapefruit if you take red-yeast rice. Although the fruit and juice are refreshing, they can increase blood levels of many medicines, including some statins (Lipitor, Zocor and Mevacor). When blood levels go up, there is increased risk of toxicity.
We are sending you our Guides To Grapefruit Interactions and Cholesterol so that you will know most of the other medications that are affected and how to protect yourself from this problem. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $2 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (60 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. JL-97, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.
Q. How does red tea (rooibos) compare with green and black tea for health attributes?
A. Rooibos, or "red bush" tea, is a South African beverage from the leaves of the shrub Aspalathus linearis. Unlike green or black tea (both made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis), rooibos has no caffeine or other stimulants. It has antioxidant flavonoids, though not as much as either green or black tea. Some animal research indicates that it may protect against cellular mutations triggered by chemicals or radiation. It is premature to assume that drinking rooibos would offer such health advantages, but it does appear to be safe.
Q. I had to laugh when I saw your article on curing hiccups with a spoonful of sugar. You said it was originally published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1971.
I had my first child in November 1947. I brought him home when he was 3 days old, and he immediately started hiccupping. I couldn't figure out how to stop it. My dad came into the kitchen and told me to put a tiny bit of sugar on the end of a spoon and give it to the baby. It worked!I wonder where he heard that? From his mom, no doubt.
A. Thanks for the history lesson. Home remedies are often passed down from generation to generation.
XIn their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10019, or e-mail them at or via their Web site: Their latest book is "The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies" (St. Martin's Press).
& copy; 2005 King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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