Not a good week for several natural remedies that many swear by. Echinacea, the natural immune system builder, fared badly in one trial among a group of children with colds, and borage oil did nothing to alleviate eczema when it was given to a group of children and adults.
Echinacea was worse than ineffective, say researchers from the University of Washington, because it also caused a rash in 7 per cent of children.
They gave Echinacea to one group of children with an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI), while another group of sufferers was given a placebo. In all, 407 children were given either Echinacea or a placebo, but symptoms and length of illness were about the same in both groups.
Borage oil, often sold in pharmacies as 'starflower oil', is often used to treat atopic eczema because of its high concentration of linolenic acid.
It's one of the few self-help remedies to be tested in medical trials, but with inconsistent results. Several have been positive, but several others didn't find it helped at all.
So researchers from the George Eliot hospital in Nuneaton decided to provide a definitive answer. They tested 920 mg of oil daily for 12 weeks on a group of 140 adults and children (the children were given half the quantity). But after the 12 weeks, the oil had been no more effective than the placebo. The one piece of good news was that, unlike Echinacea, borage oil had no nasty after-effects.
(Sources: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2003; 290: 2824-30 (echinacea study); British Medical Journal, 2003; 327: 1385-7).