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Product Review:

Background:  Echinacea is a popular herb used primarily to reduce the symptoms and duration of colds and flu-like illnesses. It is believed to work through short-term stimulation of the immune system. It has not, however, been proven effective in preventing disease and is not recommended for long-term use, since the practice may actually depress the immune system.
There are three species of echinacea — E. purpurea, E. angustifolia, and E. pallida. Supplements are made from the above-ground herb (or aerial) portion and/or root portions of echinacea depending upon the species used. Like many other herbal remedies, it is not clearly understood which of echinacea's many chemical components are responsible for its effects. However, the various species of echinacea have been characterized as possessing certain marker compounds of the chemical class called "phenols." For example, cichoric and caftaric acids are phenols found within both the aerial and root portions of E. purpurea, while echinacoside is a phenol found in higher levels specifically within E. angustifolia and E. pallida roots. These compounds can be used as markers to evaluate the quality of echinacea in a product.
Microbial contamination can sometimes occur with herbal products such as Echinacea during their growing, harvesting or production and the presence of microbes can also indicate decomposition of the plant material. As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) has established standards for microbial contamination of medicinal plant materials intended for internal use, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established zero tolerance levels for certain disease-causing bacteria.
However, neither the FDA nor any other federal or state agency routinely tests echinacea products, or other supplements, for quality prior to sale. ConsumerLab.com, as part of its mission to independently evaluate products that affect health, wellness, and nutrition, purchased many of the echinacea dietary supplements sold in the U.S. and tested them for the quality and quantity of their echinacea and levels of microbial contamination.
Testing & Results:  In October and November 2000, ConsumerLab.com purchased a total of 25 echinacea products. Six of these products were eliminated from the testing portion of the review due to inadequate ingredient labeling. Specifically, three did not identify the species of echinacea, one did not state the part of the plant used, and two liquids or tinctures did not state the concentration of echinacea. Since March 1999 the FDA has required that labeling on herbal products provide such information.
Among the remaining 19 products, twelve claimed to contain E. purpurea only, two claimed E. angustifolia only, and five were mixtures of two or more species of echinacea. Some of these products also contained other ingredients such as goldenseal. Only three of the products tested specifically indicated the levels of phenols.
The products were tested to determine whether they possessed 100% of the claimed amounts and types of echinacea, as well as claimed levels of phenols. If the phenol levels were not clearly labeled, products were held to specific minimum standards selected by ConsumerLab.com consistent with clinical research on echinacea. Products were also required to meet purity requirements for microbial contamination.

Among the 19 products tested,
five did not pass testing as described below:

Two of the twelve E. purpurea-only products tested failed. One, an extract made from aerial portions of the plant, had only 54% of the minimum expected level of total phenols. The other, a root powder, had nearly three times the acceptable level of microbes, set by WHO. The microbes found were aerobic bacteria, indicative of potential decomposition of the product (not coliform bacteria, associated with fecal contamination and the cause of gastrointestinal disease). Interestingly, the other 10 E. purpurea products that passed testing were all made of whole herb prepared from aerial portions (flower, leaves, and stems).

Both of the E. angustifolia-only products failed. One, made from root powder, had no detectable levels of echinacoside, a known marker for this species. The other, a root extract, had less than one-third of the "4%" phenol content claimed on the label.

One of the combination products failed because it lacked detectable levels of echinacoside, although it claimed to contain E. angustifolia root extract.

In summary, out of the 25 products originally purchased, only 14 products (56%) passed this review. It is possible that the products that did not contain the expected levels of markers were made from other types of echinacea or, perhaps, contained other ingredients altogether.
Examples of some of the products that passed ConsumerLab.com's independent testing of Echinacea dietary supplements:
(Listed below in order of Product Name, Amount, Type of Echinacea per Pill, and Manufacturer or Distributor)
Herbal Authority™ Echinacea 400 mg Herbal Supplement (400 mg E. purpurea root powder)
Manufactured by: Herbal Authority, a division of Puritan's Pride
Nature's Bounty® Natural Echinacea 400 mg (400 mg E. purpurea root powder)  Manufactured by Nature's Bounty, Inc.
Nutrilite® Triple Guard Echinacea (168.7 mg E. purpurea root and aerial powder and E. angustifolia root powder)  Mfd. By Nutrilite, a Division of Access Business Group International.
Tom's of Maine® Natural Echinacea Tonic With Green Tea Liquid Herbal Supplement, Ginger-Orange (1,015 mg/15 mL of E. purpurea (fresh root and dried aerial) powder, E. angustifolia (dried root) extract)  Tom's of Maine

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