Photo credit: Flickr/mcfarlandmo
When those aches, sniffles and runny nose strike, many of us want to turn to natural cures. But I know from writing about holistic health for many years that not all natural remedies work. So I called several top doctors, then looked at the research (which, as with many natural products, isn’t as extensive as scientists would like), and found 5 remedies that seem worth taking. Of course, we all know that prevention is best–not touching your face, washing hands a lot and the like. But as the rest of cold and flu season blows through, consider keeping some of these remedies on hand. (With any medical treatment, you should talk to your doctor to see what’s right for you.)
Probiotics. The idea that good bacteria could crowd out bad ones makes sense, which is why scientists weren’t surprised when a review last fall of 10 studies on probiotics found people taking supplements or yogurt with these cultures had 12 percent fewer upper respiratory tract infections. Another study confirmed that children, too, develop fewer bouts of coughs and runny noses. To be most effective, probiotics should be taken daily.
Zinc. Taken at the first hint of a cold (rather than continuously), zinc seems to make your bout shorter and less severe, according to a review of 15 studies. The best way to take is in lozenges, since coating your throat stops the virus from proliferating, says Neal Schachter, MD, author of The Good Doctor’s Guide to Colds & Flu. (Remember, though, that zinc make some people nauseous–and it tastes gross.) Just keep it out of your nose: nasal sprays have been linked with permanent loss of smell.
Echinacea. A recent, large study by University of Wisconsin cold-remedy expert Bruce Barrett, MD, found this herb works no better than a placebo. But other trials had shown that it does. When all the studies are considered together, Barrett believes echinacea may lessen symptom severity by about 15 percent—not great, but maybe enough to get you through that important meeting.
Vitamin C. Despite its reputation as a sniffle-prevention powerhouse, Finnish researchers reviewing some two-dozen studies concluded it doesn’t keep colds from coming on. (The exceptions: skiers and marathon runners exposed to short periods of harsh physical stress.) Still, taking it regularly seems to make colds a bit shorter, Barrett says. You don’t want more than a few grams daily, he cautions, or load up on C-rich foods (citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes) and juices.
Chicken soup. Small laboratory studies have confirmed that its key ingredients reduce the inflammation that makes your cold feel so miserable, and they also speed mucous clearing. Maybe even more valuable, the warm liquid—and its memories of mom or grandma—make chicken soup super-soothing. (Vegetarians who leave out the chicken but keep the onions and veggies likely get an immune boost, too.) Manga!