Home Remedies for the Common Cold: Do They Work?

With more than one billion cases in the U.S each year, it’s obvious why they call it the common cold. Sadly, with that kind of prevalence, it’s extremely likely that you or your children will have to deal with the coughing, congestion and aches that come along with the cold. With so many people suffering from this minor virus, it’s also to be expected that many remedies would appear. Some of these treatments have existed for generations, others are based on new theories. But do these remedies really work?

Echinacea

This herb, a relative of the daisy that is native to midwestern North America, has been a stable of traditional and folk medicine for years and is one of the most popular cold remedies. Proponents of echinacea claim that it may both prevent the cold and shorten the duration of cold symptoms.

Studies, however, are mixed. An analysis of all available quality research was conducted by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, but found no conclusive evidence for either side of the debate over whether echinacea is effective or not. According to the researchers, this inconclusiveness could be caused by the huge variety of formulas used in echinacea supplements. These preparations may contain different parts of the plant or even different species of echinacea or any mixture thereof, making it difficult to judge the effectiveness of the plant itself.

In light of this uncertainty, Mayo Clinic advises that if you have an otherwise healthy immune system and are not taking any prescription medications, echinacea is unlikely to have serious side effects.

In other words, feel free to try it. It can’t hurt, and it may indeed help.

Chicken Soup

Once again, it seems like generations of mothers and grandmothers were on to something when they pushed chicken soup for the cold.

A team of researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center found that the ingredients in the classic chicken soup recipe has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce symptoms of the cold. The soup may also increase mucus movement, flushing the virus out of your system more quickly.

In addition to this activity, the vitamins and minerals contained in the soup may have an immune-boosting effect. Of course, there is also the possibility of a psychosomatic calm induced by the steam and the positive emotional effects of a warm bowl of soup being served to you by your mother.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a star player in countless over-the-counter cold treatments and is usually included in massive mega-doses in these products, well over the Federal Drug Administration’s recommend amounts of 60 mg.

Like many alternative treatments, vitamin supplementation has had mixed results in the research. The Mayo Clinic reports that, for the average person, vitamin C won’t be of any real benefit in preventing the cold, but for people who are at a constant risk of exposure to the virus it could be useful. Specifically, the Mayo Clinic lists school-aged children among those who could benefit from vitamin C supplements.

It is also possible that taking vitamin C before the cold actually begins could shorten the duration of the illness. This is hard to prove, however, since the virus reacts differently in everyone depending on many individual factors.

In light of the inconclusive findings, the Mayo Clinic classifies vitamin C as something that “probably doesn’t hurt” as a potential treatment for the cold.

Zinc

Zinc has had a tumultuous history as a possible cold treatment, surrounded by flawed studies and controversial results. Most of the high quality studies on zinc have produced negative results but even the few that showed potential required that zinc be taken in a small window, within 24 hours, before the onset of cold symptoms.

Unlike vitamin C, which may be worth a try, the risks of zinc supplementation outweigh the benefits. Not only can zinc leave you with a bad taste in your mouth and nausea, but even the standard dosage found in over-the-counter nasal sprays can cause a long-lasting or permanent loss of smell. For this reason, the FDA warns against the use of zinc-based nasal sprays.

Warnings and Considerations

It’s true that some of the traditional cold remedies have shown promise in trials, you should always consult a doctor before beginning any self-treatment. Rest and plenty of water are still some of the best ways to care for a cold.

Have you experienced the benefits of any home remedies for the cold? Please share your experience in the comments.

Sources

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001698/

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cold-remedies/ID00036/NSECTIONGROUP=2

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16437427/

http://archives.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/diet.fitness/10/17/chicken.soup.reut/

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