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Umcka for Respiratory Infections

October 23, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

South African geranium (Pelargonium sidoides) is a medicinal plant that is attracting a lot attention in the scientific community. This cold and flu season may be a good opportunity for this traditional herbal remedy to broaden its reach. There’s a great deal of attention and concern about the H1N1 novel flu virus these days. No one knows how much of an impact this current viral strain will ultimately have. But we do know that upper respiratory infections will certainly affect millions upon millions of people in the coming year alone. Therefore, I think it’s advantageous to know about as many safe and natural resources as possible. These immune boosting supplements may help protect us from the risks that we know about and those that may or may not come to pass.

Pelargonium sidoides (EPs) continues to be used by natural practitioners in its native South Africa. In Europe it’s sold as a phytomedicine known as Umckaloabo. In the United States, it goes by the abbreviated name of Umcka. Both product names are derived from the African word “umKhulkane”, which translates to “respiratory infection”. True to its name, Umcka first gained recognition as a traditional treatment for pulmonary tuberculosis. Subsequent scientific research has lent merit to this historical application. (1,2,3)

The strongest scientific case for Umcka can be made with regard to bronchitis, an inflammation and swelling of the bronchial tubes that direct air to the lungs. Bronchitis often occurs at the conclusion of a cold or flu. It’s typically characterized by chest discomfort, difficulty breathing and sleeping, excessive mucous production in the airways, fatigue, fever (and chills), increased risk of lung infections and painful, prolonged coughing. A review examining the effects of Umcka in patients with acute bronchitis appeared in the May 2008 issue of the journal Phytomedicine. In the conclusion, the authors stated that “Umcka significantly reduced bronchitis symptoms in patients with acute bronchitis by day 7″. They went on to state that, “no serious adverse effects were reported”. Here’s an examination of some of the specific studies that were analyzed in the previous meta-analysis. (4)

Several trials conducted on Umcka were published in 2007. The largest of them involved 2,099 patients with acute bronchitis that featured a “productive cough”. The participants were given the Umcka extract for a total of 14 days. A standardized index known as the Bronchitis Severity Score (BSS) was used to determine changes in the degree of symptoms. On average the patients’ BSS scores dropped from 7.1 (at baseline) to 1.0 (after 14 days). An analysis that looked specifically at children’s response found a similar improvement – 6.3 (at baseline) and .9 (after 14 days). Children under the age of 3 demonstrated a BSS decline from 5.2 (at baseline) to 1.2 (after 14 days). There were no “serious adverse effects” reported and only 1.2% of the study volunteers complained of mild side effects. (5)

Two additional German trials were made public in March of 2007. Both of these scientific inquiries point out that antibiotics are often incorrectly used to treat acute bronchitis – which is mostly caused by a virus. This provides the basis for the search for a more acceptable and relevant remedy, such as Umcka.

  • 205 patients with acute bronchitis or “acute exacerbation of chronic bronchitis” were enrolled in the first study. The researchers used a “5-point scale” to quantify the effects of Umcka on various bronchial symptoms such as aching limbs, chest pain, cough, difficulty breathing, expectoration of mucous, fatigue, headache and hoarseness. When all the symptoms ratings were combined, the average score of the participants was 6.1. After 7 days of treatment with Umcka, the score was reduced to 2.8. Over 60% of the patients rated their status as “much improved” or “free from symptoms”. A total of 78% expressed feeling “satisfied” or “very satisfied”. In general, it took about 2 days of treatment before any benefit was noted. 16 of the 205 volunteers reported mild side effects, but no serious adverse reactions were documented. (6)
  • 742 children with bronchitis aged 0 -12 years were given varying dosages of Umcka for 14 days. The Bronchitis Severity Score (BSS) scale was once again employed. However, in this study, other measures of wellness such as diarrhea, fever, headache, loss of appetite and vomiting were accounted for as well. An overall improvement of “at least 80%” was exhibited in “individual component symptoms”. The children’s BSS scores declined from 6.0 to 2.7 after 7 days. By day 14, their BSS dropped even further to 1.4. Over 88% of the treating physicians rated the performance of the herbal medication as “successful”. It’s also interesting to note that symptoms unrelated to bronchitis, such as poor appetite, were statistically improved by the study’s end. At the start of the trial, 66% of the young volunteers lacked a healthy appetite. By the end of the 14 days, that percentage dropped to 28%. Much like the previous studies, “adverse effects were minor and transitory”. (7)

A 2005 study presented in the journal Explore and a 2003 trial published in Phytomedicine similarly concluded that Umcka was considerably more effective than a placebo in promoting recovery from bronchitis. The latter study determined that the Umcka extract reduced “the severity of symptoms and shortened the duration of working inability for nearly 2 days”. The safety profiles in these two studies were comparable to the 2007 data – indicating only rare and minor complaints. (8,9)

Source: Explore (NY). 2007 Nov-Dec;3(6):573-84. (link)

There are several other bacterial and viral conditions that appear to be responsive to treatment with Umcka.

  • A trial from December 2007 determined that Umcka could dramatically improve the symptoms of the common cold as compared to an inactive placebo. A “cure rate” of nearly 80% was found after 10 days of treatment with Umcka. Only 31% of the placebo group recovered during the same time frame. Those using the herbal extract were also more likely to return to work about 1.3 days earlier. (10)
  • A presentation in the March 2009 issue of the journal Rhinology reports that Umcka may be a safe and effective treatment option for those with sinusitis, an inflammation of the sinuses that can involve congestion, facial pressure, severe headaches, fever and postnasal drip. 60 drops of a liquid Umcka supplement or a similar placebo was administered to 103 patients with rhinosinusitis. The study was stopped ahead of schedule due to a better response to the herbal preparation. The scientists conducting the trial commented that Umcka “was well tolerated and superior in efficacy to placebo in the treatment of acute rhinosinusitis of presumably bacterial origin”. (11)

Infections that affect other parts of the body also appear to be sensitive to the therapeutic activity of Umcka. Several laboratory studies indicate that it can help counter H. pylori damage. This is a bacterium that is responsible for causing ulcers and has been implicated in an increased risk of gastric cancer. Research is even being conducted to determine whether Umcka may one day be used to manage herpes infections. (12,13,14,15)

The manner in which Umcka combats bacteria, fungi and viruses appears to be twofold. It’s evident from numerous laboratory studies that this herbal medicine possesses potent “anti-infective” properties. However, there also appears to be a component that boosts immune function. These two factors combined could explain the faster recovery rates and symptom improvements found in the previously mentioned studies. (16,17,18,19)

In my opinion, the information currently available about Umcka is extremely promising. What sets this natural remedy apart from many others is a very strong track record of efficacy, as well as safety in both young children and adults. Scientists believe that the few reported side effects associated with the supplement may be due to rare allergic reactions. However, the potential for allergies exists with all foods and herbs. Another appealing aspect of Umcka is its relatively affordable cost. A 14 day course of the extract will generally set you back less than $20, especially if you shop for it online. The next time I feel a cold or flu coming on, I’ll probably reach for a bottle of Umcka. You might consider doing the same. (20,21,22)

Be well!


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6 Comments & Updates to “Umcka for Respiratory Infections”

  1. Sheryl Says:

    I LOVE your blog!

    I discovered it by accident, searching for information about coconut water and high blood pressure.

    Excellent blog! I will be back often to visit.

    Thank you for your helpful information. Nice attractive layout too. Sheryl

  2. JP Says:

    Thank you, Sheryl! :)

    I’m happy you found us and I sincerely hope our site provides lots of interesting and useful information for you and your loved ones.

    Be well!


  3. Nina K. Says:

    Hey JP,

    this Umckaloabo is very announced at the moment. You can read commercials in every healthstore. Havent tried it yet, because – happily – didn’t need it yet :-)

    Wish you and yours a wonderfull weekend. Im curous about the next issues next week :-)

    Best regards,
    Nina K.

  4. JP Says:

    Thanks, Nina! I love getting your reports about what’s going on in your part of the world! :)

    Avoiding colds and flus is the best strategy and I know that you do many, many things to ensure that. Well done!

    I hope you and yours have a lovely weekend as well. As for next week, I know there will be updates on acupressure, massage and the connection between excess stress and poor bone health. But that’s the just the “tip of the iceberg”! :)

    Be well!


  5. Nina K. Says:

    Thanks JP :-)

    nice interessting issues, im excited to read them…and massage is especially for me very interessting because before i studied sociology and psychology i did a apprenticeship for physiotherapy. so if you have any questions im here :-) ;-)

    Be well too!
    Nina K.

  6. JP Says:

    Thanks, Nina! :)

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