You're sneezing. You're sniffling. You're miserable with the cold that won't
And nearly everyone within arm's length is suddenly describing their
''miracle'' cold remedy. They want to tell you all about how you can squash
that cold -- maybe overnight! -- if you just (fill in the blank) pop some
vitamin C, take echinacea or zinc, or heat up some chicken soup. And they may
mention that taking their secret remedy before the first sniffle may have
helped you avoid the cold altogether.
Never mind the fervor with which these cold remedies are offered. Do they
actually work? WebMD turned to three top experts who have studied the cold
virus for decades.
First, the really bad news: "You can't cure a cold," says David A. Blandino,
MD, chairman of family and community medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
Medical Center Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh.
But you may be able to shorten one. Here's the scorecard on whether natural
cold remedies such as vitamins and supplements get a thumbs up or thumbs down.
1. Zinc. The mineral zinc, available in over-the-counter lozenges,
nasal sprays, and gels, may work by preventing the formation of proteins needed
by a cold virus to reproduce.
Despite the hoopla about zinc for treatment of colds, scientific studies are
scarce, says Jack M. Gwaltney, MD, professor emeritus of internal medicine at
the University of Virginia and a longtime cold researcher. Gwaltney tells WebMD
that he and his colleagues could find only 14 published studies that looked at
zinc the scientific way, with both placebo and treatment groups. Zinc lozenges,
they conclude, have no effect. One well-designed study reported a positive
effect on treating a cold with zinc nasal gel. But the study results have not
yet been replicated, Gwaltney says.
2. Vitamin C. For decades, believers in vitamin C have said taking
this vitamin supplement can nip a cold in the bud. The claim is partially
triggered by lab studies that find vitamin C affects resistance to virus in
But in people? Experts disagree on this slightly but lean toward the
negative. Some, including Blandino, say vitamin C has not been proven to
shorten the duration of a cold. One 2007 study showed that if vitamin C is
taken after a cold begins, it doesn't shorten the cold or make it less severe.
But when it is taken daily as a preventive treatment -- not just after that
first sniffle -- it can very slightly shorten cold duration, by about 8% in
adults and by about 14% in children.
Very highly fit people -- marathon runners, for instance -- might cut their
risk of a cold in half by taking the vitamin, the study also showed.
But Gwaltney does not agree. "The weight of scientific evidence and the
well-done studies indicate vitamin C does not prevent colds," says Gwaltney.
"It may have some mild effect on treating colds."