Rush for miracle cures in pharmacies: But the effect of Echinaforce in the body is still uncertain

A preparation from the red coneflower inhibits Covid-19 in cell culture. To speak of a miracle cure would be an exaggeration, say even the study authors.

Echinaforce has been in demand everywhere since Monday.

Bild: (Alexandra Wey / KEYSTONE)

The news hits like a bomb. A pharmacist from Oberthurgau reported that the first customers had reserved their Echinaforce tablets by phone early on Monday morning, shortly after the “Blick” reported about a new “miracle cure for Corona”. Their supplies were already used up in the early afternoon. Many customers would have asked for the preparation in the morning. In Basel, a customer was sent home by his pharmacist at nine in the morning: “Everything is sold out, you are already the fiftieth customer who asks about it.”

What happened? On September 9, the renowned “Virology Journal” published the study report on an in vitro study with Echinacea purpurea, the red coneflower. The study was carried out by the Spiez Laboratory. An effectiveness against coronaviruses was observed in the cell experiment. The Thurgau manufacturing company A. Vogel AG was surprised by the huge amount of attention yesterday morning and said in the afternoon that A.Vogel AG was not allowed to comment on the results of studies on drug research for legal reasons.

“To what extent the results of the cell experiment can be transferred to humans, we do not yet know.”

The Thurgau-based company writes that further scientific studies would have to provide an additional basis for assessment.

The effect on the body is still hypothetical

Werner Albrich from the Infectious Disease Clinic at the St.Gallen Cantonal Hospital has been researching the active ingredient from the Echinacea plant for a long time. To speak of a miracle cure is not appropriate. “But there is an indication with this study that Echinaforce could work as a prophylaxis,” says the infectiologist. More precisely: The new study by the Spiez Laboratory shows that the active ingredient inhibits coronaviruses in the test tube. Second, there is clinical evidence from previous studies that colds are reduced if Echinaforce is used preventively. If you use Echinaforce to prevent colds, then you have a certain chance that it will also work against Covid-19. “But these are still hypotheses at the moment,” says Albrich. “It has helped us a lot if colds and flu are not rampant this winter. This can be achieved on the one hand with distance and hygiene measures, on the other hand with the usual flu vaccination and thirdly with prevention. Echinaforce can help. ” According to Albrich, an influenza wave should not coincide with a Covid-19 wave in order not to overload the health system.

Here are the most important questions and answers about the new Echinaforce study.

In the test tube, i.e. in vitro, experiments were carried out with human tissue from cells of the upper respiratory tract. Echinaforce inactivated the four coronaviruses examined in the tissue. The most common cold virus HCoV-229E, Mers-CoV, Sars-CoV1 and the new Sars-CoV2 were killed. This confirms earlier scientific studies that have shown that the active ingredient in red coneflower has an antiviral effect.

The Echinacea supplements have different effects due to the thousands of molecules in the active ingredient. They have a preventive and healing effect. They act directly against viruses, inhibit virus replication, kill them directly and prevent the viruses from attaching to the airway cells. Previous Echinaforce studies show that the active ingredient also has anti-inflammatory effects while boosting the immune system at the same time. Scavenger cells are activated, which can kill viruses and bacteria.

Another effect is that Echinacea blocks the attachment of bacteria to the human airway cells. Virus infections often lead to bacterial infections. This means that the virus infection damages the airway cells and thereby promotes the penetration of bacteria into the cells. This can lead to a bacterial superinfection. Echinacea prevents both viral and bacterial infections. In addition, there is no known development of resistance in Echinacea, which is why the active ingredient is also considered a beacon of hope in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

The study shows that echinacea has a preventive effect in the cell culture model. According to the authors of the study, prophylactic treatment against the coronavirus makes sense because the active ingredient has been proven to have a broad spectrum of activity against respiratory viruses that cause either severe lung diseases or colds. The authors of the study write that healthcare workers in particular who treat severe CoV infections could benefit from this because it would reduce the transmission and morbidity of highly pathogenic coronaviruses in the general population. Due to their general mode of action, novel zoonotic coronaviruses, such as Sars-CoV2, could also be sensitive to the drug Echinaforce and possibly offer an accessible and inexpensive prophylactic treatment for other, emerging coronavirus infections.

The effect of Echinaforce on Sars-CoV2 has only been proven in vitro, not in the body. A certain high concentration of the active ingredient in the Petri dish resulted in 100 percent killing of the coronaviruses. The question now arises whether the concentrations required for an anti-viral effect can also be achieved in the human body. The researchers therefore also examined what happens when the viruses are already in the cells. “But then the active ingredient was practically ineffective,” says Werner Albrich. An effect could only be achieved with very high doses, and only to a small extent. It is not known whether Echinaforce in the commercial doses has an effect on the cure of Covid-19.

Echinaforce is obtained from the red coneflower. Echinaforce products for retail are made from its fresh plant extract and alcohol.

The active ingredient for the preparation comes from the red coneflower and, like every plant, cannot be cultivated and stored without restriction. As with all herbal products, there are natural limits to their production. However, there are other manufacturers who produce coneflower preparations, but not in exactly the same composition as the Echinaforce by A. Vogel, which has now been tested in the laboratory.

The study was carried out at the Spiez Laboratory, the federal institute for protection against nuclear, biological and chemical threats. It belongs to the Department of Defense, Civil Protection and Sport (VBS) and is the only laboratory in Switzerland that is also allowed to work with highly dangerous pathogens. In the national Covid task force, the Spiez laboratory is involved in questions about diagnostics and protective masks. In addition to virologists from the Spiez laboratory, two employees from A. Vogel AG and the infectiologist Werner Albrich from the St.Gallen Cantonal Hospital were involved in the Echinaforce study. In a statement yesterday, the Spiez Laboratory stated that the effectiveness of a substance in vitro confirmed by the laboratory is not proof of the effectiveness of the substance in vivo. In order to be able to make statements about this, clinical studies would be necessary.

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