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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

How to Short-Circuit a Cold -- Maybe

It seems everyone has a cold remedy, but do some actually work?
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The hottest cold remedy on the shelves is Airborne, a tablet-in-water "effervescent" concoction consisting of antioxidants, electrolytes, amino acids, vitamin C, and seven herbs. Legend has it that this was invented by a second-grade teacher who found the perfect formula for warding off the ailments of her germy little charges.

"My patients use it and find it helpful and cost effective," Mark Stengler, ND, a naturopathic medical doctor who practices at the LaJolla Whole Health Clinic in LaJolla, Calif., tells WebMD. "They take it if people around them have a cold or if they are going on a plane. It comes in a children's version, too."

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On the company web site, a study of 96 people aged 18-55 years who had upper respiratory symptoms 24 hours or less is outlined. A cold-symptoms scale was developed to be used during the study.

Forty-eight participants received Airborne six times a day for five days, while 44 participants received a placebo pill. They were asked to evaluate their symptoms after receiving their treatment. In the placebo group, almost 10% saw complete improvements in their symptoms. In the Airborne group, almost half of were classified as "full responders."

"If someone had a cure for the cold, we would all take it," Eric Larson, MD, chair of the board of regents of the American College of Physicians, an internist at Group Health Cooperative and director of the Center for Health Studies, both in Seattle, reminds WebMD. "A lot of the evidence we hear is along the lines of, 'I took this medicine and didn't get a cold and my spouse didn't take it and did get a cold.'"

Still, Larson says "a lot of people swear by Airborne. I just don't see evidence that it works." However, he adds that because people believe it's effective, it may indeed have an effect.

How Effective Is Vitamin C?

Larson says vitamin C is "probably the most studied" remedy. "This is because a popular scientist [Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling] cited the biochemistry and showed why it should work." But, he says, the consensus seems to be that large doses of vitamin C (greater than 1 gram per day) does not prevent infection with the virus responsible for the common cold.

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