A Few Good Things for Colds (October 27, 2015)
So today we are finally on the topic of Colds and Flus, Stuff for Prevention and Treatment of Same. I say "finally" because the last time I looked at this subject, I was so unimpressed with the evidence for the pitifully few natural substances that might be of help that I dropped the whole idea. Happily, there seemed to be a little more to look at this time around.
An Australian study found some effectiveness for a particular combination of elderberry plus echinacea. Ok. As I continued blithely along, though, I was stopped cold by the following:
A cold is a respiratory infection caused by one of hundreds of possible viruses. However, because these viruses are so widespread, it is perhaps more accurate to say that colds are caused by a decrease in immunity that allows one of these viruses to take hold.
Mmmph. Now THERE’S a buzzkill for you. The fault then, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is not in our microbes, but in our selves, that we are underlings – or not properly caring for ourselves, anyway. This is a good place to start, though. Because if you can take effective steps to prevent getting ill, that is better than treating illness any time. And, truth be told, for your basic seasonal respiratory problems, there ARE no really good cures -- natural or otherwise.
Prevention is boring. It means getting enough sleep, when you’d rather be up fooling around on the computer. It means eating healthy food, which is not nearly as yummy as the unhealthy kind. It means getting up and moving around, when most of us would prefer simply to wear a hole in the recliner binge-watching Pawn Stars. It could mean performing some kind of emotionally-centering and mind-calming practice, the thought of which you probably find appalling if you aren’t actually doing one already. And, last but not least, it means avoiding things like smoking, drinking, and most (although not all) illegal substances.
If you wish to read an earlier article that the previous paragraph briefly summarizes:
(I cited myself! I cited myself!) But, granting all that, what can we TAKE that will boost our immunity? Because we’re Americans, and that means that we’re all about taking stuff.
To answer this and similar questions, you should always start with ConsumerLab.
Conventional medicine can neither cure nor prevent the common cold. Furthermore, none of the over-the-counter treatments have been found to shorten the duration of a cold or even provide significant temporary relief. Cough syrup, in fact, seems to be no better than placebo.111-112 Some of the natural treatments described in this section may be able to do better.
(Do you see those numbers after “placebo” in the above paragraph? They are there because that statement is supported by the one-hundred eleventh and one-hundred twelfth references listed at the end of the original article. This is evidence-based to the max, and is why I love ConsumerLab so much.)
So ConsumerLab says natural cures can "do better" than most conventional ones. Ok, but as you continue on with their article, you find that the more unusual items they discuss tend to be proprietary combinations of ingredients. That means that the only studies available on something like, say, the elderberry-plus-echinacea combination mentioned earlier are usually done BY THE SAME PEOPLE THAT ARE SELLING THE PRODUCT. Conflict of interest, folks.
Nevertheless, if the combination is something that is suggested by earlier research into the subject, or you trust the company that did it, or you figure that if worst comes to worst that you’ll only be out the price of the bottle, it might be worth a shot. Two supplements that fall into this category are:
I think you’re better off taking natural, easily-available, cheap items that won’t get you in trouble unless you do something really outstanding like choke on them. Here are the ones I found that I liked the best:
People who take garlic regularly (one small clove of fresh garlic daily) are less likely to catch a cold. If you're taking aged garlic, go by the recommended dosage on the label.
Probiotics seemed to reduce the number of respiratory illnesses and their severity and duration as well. Look for the lactobacillus strains and take at least 2 billion organisms for a daily dose.
I would like to mention as well that, although there is presently only limited, preliminary evidence on the subject, Chinese medicine boasts loud and long about its ability to cure the common cold. I can tell you from personal experience that I have found acupuncture incredibly effective in diminishing congestion in particular, and that it does seem to shorten the overall duration of illness.That’s just me, though. And about ten million Chinese doctors.
In any event, staying healthy, as is true with all illnesses, is your best bet. And if you have been skimping on caring properly for yourself, this would be a good time to resume. Or start. Happy healthy!
--dr. diane holmes
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