Selection of natural health products for clinical trials: a preclinical template

Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2009 May;87(5):371-8. doi: 10.1139/y09-021.


In preparation for a clinical trial on the efficacy of Echinacea products with a pediatric population, a rational method for selection of test products was developed, based on phytochemical and bioassay evaluation. Ten currently available commercial products of Echinacea angustifolia (EA) or Echinacea purpurea (EP) were selected, and 3 bottles of each of 2 different lots were purchased for each product. Investigators were blinded to product identity before phytochemical analysis. Lot-to-lot variation was small, but product variation due to species and formulation was large. Products derived from ethanol extracts had low polysaccharide content and high levels of alkamides (EA), echinacoside (EA), cynarin (EA), cichoric acid (EP), and caftaric acid (EP). These products possessed high antiviral activities that differed between EA and EP products, but limited immune activation properties. In contrast, products derived without ethanol extraction had higher polysaccharide levels, but low levels of other components. These aqueous compounds showed immunostimulant activity as measured in a mouse macrophage model and a somewhat different antiviral profile. The choice of Echinacea product for clinical trial must therefore consider the impact of immune enhancement, the specific viral infection targeted, and the potential to reduce symptoms via antiinflammatory activity. Product selection may also depend on whether the intent of the trial is prophylaxis or treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods*
  • Echinacea* / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / biosynthesis
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*


  • Interleukin-6
  • Plant Extracts