How to Short-Circuit a Cold — Maybe


The hottest 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.

“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 colds, Stengler does. “Oh, absolutely,” he says. “I combine it with goldenseal, astralagus (a Chinese herb targeting the 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 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.

Approaches Worth Trying

It seems everyone has a cold remedy. These might be worth a try (and will at least get your mind off feeling lousy):

What Some Doctors Do

The studies are mixed; the juries are not in. Does this mean there is nothing the doctor would do, personally if, let’s say, they were to be married in three days and had started sneezing?

  • Larson says he would take Tylenol and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), 60 milligrams (not for those with high blood pressure). He also would take an antihistamine. “And I would drink lots and lots of liquids. There is evidence this dilutes mucus and makes it easier to get out.”
  • Stengler says he would take echinacea and lomatium and rinse his sinuses. He says he would also cut back on sugar because it could affect your immunity.