New Years is for many, a time of reflection and of hope. For others, it’s a time to succumb to a sinus infection or cold, and spend your first moments of the renewed year woozy from cough syrup instead of champagne.
The arbitrary notion that the clock has been reset promises limitless possibilities to resolutionists everywhere, but only if they’re healthy. Since approximately .006% of New Years resolutions are accomplished successfully (which is why I’m already waiting for 2013) it’s safe to assume that a lot of us spend January in bed watching soap operas instead of walking the dog or hitting the gym.
No matter the ailment, be it a cold or even a back injury, you are confronted with at least a dozen “cures” for every health issue you encounter. Surprisingly, some of these “miracle” treatments, old wives remedies, or over-the-counter medicines actually work. But since even the bogus panaceas claim to be effective, it’s virtually impossible for the ailing layman to discover what works without actually sampling every product in aisle 9, which is where I’ve come to help.
In order to provide readers with everything their doctor knows about various illnesses and conditions, I’ve used my connections within the medical community to gain access to the clinicians side of the website, up-to-date. The site acts as a clearinghouse for all peer-reviewed research into medically related topics and is intended to enable doctors to have access to the most up-to-date info in the rapidly changing industry. Laypeople have access to watered-down info, so it’s still worth a visit for the thousands of subjects beyond cold cures.
So, in true Mythbusters fashion, I’ve picked some of the more controversial claims in cold remedies to see if we can’t sort out a way to finish winter without getting sick…again. Fair warning, if you heed the advice that follows, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself when you feel healthy but still haven’t taken poor Fido for a walk.
Without mentioning specific products, two of the most common cold remedies boasting miraculous results are those based on pumping your body full of Vitamin C or upping your intake of Zinc. Let’s examine each claim separately:
According to my site’s meta-analysis of over 7 independent trials, in over 3300 episodes of respiratory infection studied, supplemented intake of Vitamin C was no different than the placebo intake in decreasing cold duration. This means proponents of say…Emergen-C, are either deceived or full of [snot]. Other failures in this department are Echinacea, Vitamin D, and Vitamin E (which can be potentially fatal if overused).
In spite of the negative showing on the treatment side of the spectrum, Vitamin C appears to play at least some role in the prevention of colds. The benefit is minimal, however, and works best for athletes that are already in good cardiovascular shape.
To summarize, Vitamin C is useless as treatment but provides minimal benefits as a preventative measure.
About forty years ago, researchers reported that zinc inhibited rhinovirus replication in vitro. Since that time, lozenges that deliver zinc orally have been developed as an over-the-counter treatment for the common cold.
The most recent studies, which included 13 therapeutic trials, have concluded that zinc intake was associated with the reduction in the duration and severity of cold symptoms. While this is promising, best results were obtained when zinc was taken every 1.5 to 2 hours (during waking hours) for a minimum of five days—based on how much zinc lozenges cost, this form of treatment can get expensive.
The most common side affects were zinc’s nasty taste and the nausea that accompanies ingesting zinc without some food in your belly. Intranasal zinc products can also cause permanent anosmia (loss of sense of smell), so it’s best to stick to the lozenges.
Since most other measures can be summarized quickly, they get lumped together here. Facemasks—the kind that doctors, dentists, and apparently everyone in Asia wears—do nothing statistically noticeable to prevent colds and often give wearers headaches. Exercise, when sustained for over a year (good luck with that), is a powerful way to prevent the onset of a cold. And, in a major upset for “surprise cold cure of the year,” gargling water three times daily appears to reduce the likelihood of getting a cold—better get gurgling.