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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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How Effective Is Vitamin C? continued...

"The studies are mixed," agrees Stengler. He says that in 21 studies, vitamin C reduced the symptoms and duration of a cold, but differences in doses of the vitamin made it difficult to interpret the results of these studies. The reduction in symptoms may have been related to vitamin C's antihistamine effect at large doses.

"I just don't find vitamin C magical," sighs Stengler. "It can help mild to moderately. And it's easy to get and cost-effective."

Does Echinacea Fight Colds?

Echinacea is a distillation from a roadside wildflower called the purple coneflower and is often touted as enhancing immunity. "Again, the studies are mixed," says Stengler. "There are some positive ones." he says.

One study of 120 people with cold-like symptoms took 20 drops of echinacea every two hours for 10 days and reported a shortening of cold duration.

Although some practitioners do not use echinacea for colds, Stengler does. "Oh, absolutely," he says. "I combine it with goldenseal, astralagus (a Chinese herb targeting the respiratory system), and lomatium (an herb championed by Native Americans in Nevada)."

The problem with these studies (and with many herb studies), Stengler says, is the differences in strengths and preparations used.

Echinacea can cause rashes in some people, particularly children, so be advised. People with automimmune diseases also should not take it. Usually echinacea is only used for a short time, not every day.

Is There a Role for Zinc?

"To me the most promising [cold medicine] is zinc," Larson says. "There seems to be a good biological basis for how it fights infection."

Zinc seems to play an important role in immunity.

"The thing to remember about zinc," says Stengler, who doesn't prescribe it much, "is that only certain forms are effective. These are zinc gluconate and zinc acetate. This comes in lozenge form."

Zinc lozenges can cause nausea and mouth irritation. Prolonged use (greater than six to eight weeks) has been associated with copper deficiency.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, homeopathic treatment involves giving extremely small doses of substances that produce characteristic symptoms of illness in healthy people when given in larger doses. This approach is called "like cures like."

"Homeopathy does not work for infections, though," points out Larson.

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