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   Dec 11

Natural Cold Remedies: What to Know

Finding a cure for the common cold has proven harder than paddling across the Pacific in a rowboat.

Experts say that’s because colds can be caused by more than 200 different viruses.

There may be no sure way to stop one in its tracks, but some things may work better than others.

Expert Picks

1. Zinc gluconate lozenges. Nothing is guaranteed to help shorten a cold, including zinc. But so far the evidence in favor of zinc is slightly stronger than the evidence behind other popular remedies.

“We found that zinc (lozenges or syrup) reduces the average duration of the common cold in healthy people, when taken within 24 hours of onset of symptoms,” says a recent report from the Cochrane Collaboration, a nonprofit organization that publishes reviews of health research.

Experts recommend taking zinc for no longer than 5 days. Taking too much may upset your stomach and cause a bad taste in your mouth.

2. Nasal irrigation. Some studies suggest that using a form of nasal irrigation like the neti pot may help cold symptoms.

“The most complete way to flush the nose of bacteria-filled mucus, pollen, and dust is with saline solution and a neti pot,” says Tieraona Low Dog, MD. She’s an expert in natural and botanical medicine. “You can use it several times per week during cold and flu season to keep nasal passages moist.”

Use distilled or sterile water when you use these products. And don’t overuse them. It can rinse out too much “good” mucus, which protects against colds. Properly clean and thoroughly air-dry the neti pot after each use.

3. Pelargonium sidoides. You might not have heard of it, but Low Dog recommends this supplement, made from the South African geranium. One study found that it eased symptoms and shortened the length of colds. There are over-the-counter products that contain this supplement.

4. Hot ginger and lemon tea. “Ginger has antiviral and anti-inflammatory activity,” says Low Dog. “It soothes the throat and just makes you feel better.”

Other Popular Remedies: What to Know

Echinacea: According to Low Dog, it can help if taken at the first sign of a cold. But don’t expect miracles.

Bruce Barrett, MD, PhD, a professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, led clinical trials on the herb. He calls the overall results of more than 20 studies “inconclusive.” If echinacea helps prevent colds, “the degree of benefit is not large,” he says. It might stave off one in six colds, he estimates.

Vitamin C: “There have been more than 30 published studies on vitamin C, and many suggest that there’s benefit both for prevention and treatment. But any honest review will have to say that quite a few of the studies were negative, and we don’t know why,” Barrett says.

It’s possible that vitamin C may help some people. But don’t take too much. High doses may cause kidney stones.

Airborne: This popular product is a mix of vitamins, minerals, and herbs. Although many people use it, both Low Dog and Barrett say there’s no good published data to suggest it works.

Chicken soup: It tastes good and it could help, a little. “Hot liquids might promote the use of the respiratory cilia, tiny hair-like organs that sweep phlegm out of respiratory pathways,” says Barrett. And when it comes to chicken soup, “studies show higher mucus clearance rates versus other hot liquids.”

Greatly lower your odds of getting a cold in the first place: Wash your hands well and often. Other powerful weapons include regular exercise, mindfulness meditation, and having positive relationships, Barrett says.

If you’re unlucky enough to catch a cold, do everyone around you a favor: “Avoid giving it to others by carefully washing your hands, especially every time you touch your face,” Barrett says. And “if you’re coughing or sneezing, wear a mask.”


National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: “Common Cold.”
Tieraona Low Dog, MD, director of the fellowship at Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at University of Arizona, and author of Healthy at Home and Life Is Your Best Medicine.
Patrick, G, and Hickner, J. Journal of Family Practice, March 2008.
Medscape: “Daily Nasal Saline Irrigation Not Recommended for Long-Term Use.”
Rabago, D, and Zgierska, A, American Family Physician, November2009.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Sinus Rinsing and Neti Pots.”
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: “Zinc.”
Cochrane Summaries: “Zinc for the common cold.”
WebMD Medical Reference: “Zinc for Colds: Lozenges & Nasal Sprays.”
Bruce Barrett, MD, PhD, professor, department of family medicine at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
Barrett, B. Annals of Family Medicine, 2012.
University of Maryland Medical Center: “Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid).”

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