Top 7 Natural Cold Remedies: Do They Work?
The herb Echinacea purpurea is one of the best known and widely available herbal cold treatments. Recent study results have been negative, but its effectiveness may vary depending on the preparation. Two studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found no benefit from echinacea in a juice formulation or in an unrefined combination of root and herb. However, David Leopold, MD, recommends mixing 15 to 20 drops of an echinacea tincture with warm water four or five times a day (or as directed on the bottle).
"It tends to be a little more potent than pills," says Dr. Leopold, who is the director of integrative medical education at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine and a faculty member with the Scripps Natural Supplement Conference, in La Jolla, Calif.
"Goldenseal hasn't been studied as much but I don't think that there's any inherent problem to using it as long as somebody doesn't have an allergy to it," Dr. Leopold says.
The treated patients saw quicker resolution of symptoms including pain during cough and fever, and were able to return to work in an average of 4.7 days (compared to 6.3 days for placebo).
"There's nothing intrinsically wrong or right with the product," says Steve Gardner, litigation director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "It's an extraordinarily expensive vitamin-C delivery system. If there's any benefit, it may be from the vitamin C, which for some people might reduce the severity or duration of a cold, but won’t prevent one."
The recommended everyday intake is 75 milligrams per day for adult women and 90 milligrams per day for adult men. Dr. Leopold recommends that people with colds take a gram or so of vitamin C several times a day, depending on what other medical conditions they may have.
However, there may be some risk to Zicam Cold Remedy products. In 2006, the manufacturer of the zinc spray paid $12 million to settle 340 lawsuits from consumers who claimed to have lost their sense of smell after using the product. And in June 2009, the FDA warned consumers to stop using three Zicam products due to the risk of a loss of the sense of smell.
Are herbal remedies safe?
And there may be another upside to herbal supplements. "I believe that most of the over-the-counter products just mask symptoms, which is great to get you through the day," Dr. Leopold says. "But a lot of the oral supplements are working more with the body, maybe stimulating the immune system and also helping the body to heal."
"I don't recommend that any of my patients take any of this stuff every day, but as soon as they have a little runny nose and a scratchy throat, they should hit it hard," he adds. "Err on the side of caution."