"Every echinacea product is different," Dr Richard Barton, who heads up Natural Factors' Echinamide research project told NutraIngredientsUSA.com, explaining why it is so important to test products at every stage of the process to check the levels of the active ingredients.
Indeed, the herbal can be altered by the way in which it is grown or produced, meaning sometimes there is very little, if any, active ingredient left in a finished echinacea product. This is the main reason, according to Barton, why different trials have come up with different results for the efficacy of echinacea as an immune booster.
Over the past two years, Natural Factors has conducted two separate clinical trials into the efficacy of its herb extract, measuring the active ingredients at every stage to check they are at optimum levels.
Barton said that such painstaking measuring has been rare among echinacea producers, though it is slowly starting to be introduced.
He explained that Natural Factors controls every stage of the production from the seedlings, which the company grows on it own farms in Britsh Colombia, to the final product.
Moreover, he added that in order to ensure high levels of the active ingredients they start extracting the herbal immediately after harvest.
"Some companies use dried echinacea, but this can destroy the cichoric acid," said Barton. "Instead, we use a water/alcohol mix for extraction, with different mixes for different components, and we use almost pure water to extract the polysaccharides."
Barton said that the following measurements were those at which the ingredients were at their optimum levels : 0.25mg/ml of alkamides, 2.5mg/ml of cichoric acid and 25mg/ml of polysaccharides.
The efficiacy of these levels have now, according to the company, been confirmed in two clinical trials. The first, which was published earlier this year in Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, found that the cold symptoms were reduced by 23 percent and the illness shortened by 1.5 days.
The second study, which Barton noted had been submitted for publication in the next couple of months, showned that echinacea had a positive effect on hightening the levels of natural killer cells.
The main thrust of Barton's argument is the need for this rigorous approach to be taken up by all companies producing echinacea. He believes standardization and consistency of product would improve the results of the herbal in trials and thereby increase the credability of the product.