HEALTH MATTERS: Your health questions answeredQ. I’ve had a bad bout with a cold. Would Echinacea help my cold? A. The common cold is an extremely common ailment, as we all know. It has been estimated that cold symptoms prompt about 20 million of us to visit a physician every year and some 40 million sick days. So any treatment that might prevent or lessen the severity of the common cold would be good news, indeed
By: Dr. Joshua Wynne , Grand Forks Herald
Q. I’ve had a bad bout with a cold. Would Echinacea help my cold?
A. The common cold is an extremely common ailment, as we all know. It has been estimated that cold symptoms prompt about 20 million of us to visit a physician every year and some 40 million sick days. So any treatment that might prevent or lessen the severity of the common cold would be good news, indeed
Echinacea, a popular nonprescription botanical treatment for cold symptoms, has been the subject of hundreds of scientific studies. Many of the older studies seemed to indicate a benefit, but the studies have been criticized because they were felt to not be of high scientific quality.
A new study was just reported in the highly respected scientific journal Annals of Internal Medicine that looked at the effect of Echinacea on the severity and duration of cold symptoms in more than 700 people. The study was of excellent scientific quality. What was found was that Echinacea had no major beneficial impact on the symptoms of the patients enrolled in the study.
There was a suggestion that the treatment had a minor effect, resulting on average in about a half-day reduction in the duration of a weeklong cold. The study clearly indicated that any possible benefit of taking Echinacea is not large. So science can’t help much in answering your question. Echinacea probably helps a little in managing symptoms of the common cold, but for many patients, the small benefit probably isn’t worth the cost and effort.
Q. My elderly father seems to be slowing down — literally. It takes him forever to get to the bathroom, while just a few months ago he had had no problems. Should I be worried?
A. Unfortunately, the answer is “probably.” We all slow down as we age—I sure wish I could get around as quickly as I did when I was younger. But many of us have watched a senior “slow down” relatively suddenly, and we wonder what’s going on. Sometimes the answer is a disease process, like Parkinson’s disease. In other cases, it may be an adverse reaction to a medication.
And in some cases, it is a manifestation of depression. But a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at whether how fast seniors were able to walk (gait speed) was correlated with mortality. What the study found was that the slower that seniors were able to walk, the worse was their prognosis.
So gait speed turned out to be a very simple and easily observable indicator of the health of the geriatric patient. Thus, the fact that your father is slowing down is some cause for concern, as it may be an indicator of declining health. A visit to his health care provider might be a good idea.
Wynne is vice president for health affairs at UND, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and a professor of medicine. He is a cardiologist by training.
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