Can Umcka Help Fight Off Colds?

woman with a cold
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Umcka (Pelargonium sidoides) is a geranium plant native to South Africa. Long used in traditional African medicine, umcka (short for "umckaloabo") has recently become popular in other parts of the world, particularly as a remedy for colds and cough.

Research on Umcka: Can It Help?

To date, few studies have explored umcka's efficacy in the treatment of health problems. Existing research suggests that umcka may help manage the following conditions:

Colds: For a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2013, researchers sized up 10 previously published clinical trials comparing the effects of umcka to those of a placebo in the treatment of acute respiratory tract infections.

In their review, the report's authors concluded that umcka "may be effective in alleviating symptoms of acute rhinosinusitis and the common cold in adults". However, there was some doubt due to the overall low study quality, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions.

A 2015 review of previously published studies on herbal medicine for coughs concluded that there was "moderate evidence for P. sidoides being significantly superior to placebo in alleviating the frequency and severity of patients' cough symptoms".

Rhinosinusitis: For a study published in 2009, researchers assigned 103 people with acute rhinosinusitis to take either an extract of umcka root or a placebo for a maximum of 22 days. (Usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection, acute rhinosinusitis is marked by inflammation of the mucosa of the nasal passages and at least one of the paranasal sinuses.) Study results showed that umcka was more effective than a placebo in the treatment of the condition.

In a research review published the previous year, scientists concluded that doubt exists as to whether umcka is effective in alleviating symptoms of acute rhinosinusitis.

Bronchitis: Umcka appears to be more effective than a placebo for patients with acute bronchitis, according to a review published in 2008. Researchers sized up four placebo-controlled clinical trials, finding that umcka significantly reduced bronchitis symptoms by day seven of treatment.

A later review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2013 found that umcka "may be effective in relieving symptoms in acute bronchitis in adults and children", but the overall quality of the evidence was considered low.

Possible Side Effects and Safety Concerns

According to reports, umcka use has been linked to liver injury and other adverse effects. For example, one study found that the dietary supplements with the highest adverse reactions were Pelargonium sidodies root, and other study found that Pelargonium sidoides were possibly linked to a case of liver injury. Some researchers, however, suggest that other health conditions and medications may have been involved.

Use of the herb may trigger allergic reactions or gastrointestinal upset in some cases.

Umcka could theoretically interact with antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs (also known as "blood-thinners") and supplements, such as warfarin and aspirin.

Keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get tips on using supplements here, but if you're considering the use of any herb, talk with your primary care provider first. In some cases, self-treating a respiratory infection and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

The Takeaway

While there's some evidence that umcka can help ease the severity of colds and other respiratory infections, if you'd considering trying it, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider to weigh the pros and cons and discuss whether it's right for you.

If you're fighting a cold, getting plenty of sleep, gargling with warm salt water, and drinking lots of water and tea can help soothe your symptoms as well, according to the National Institutes of Health.

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