Surviving Cold Season, Part 2: How to Get Well Quicker
BY: Michael Castleman
You’re coughing, you’re sniffling, you feel like hell. Welcome to cold season. Fortunately, “most colds aren’t serious enough to send you to bed, but take it easy for a few days,” says Dr. Anne Simons, a family practitioner based in San Francisco. It’s hard work for the immune system to vanquish the virus, she explains. That’s why cold sufferers feel tired. What else can you do to speed your recovery along? Here’s the latest research:
Drink hot fluids Grandma was right. Cold viruses reproduce best at temperatures below normal body temperature. Hot liquids heat the throat and may impair viral replication. Hot fluids also soothe a sore throat, have decongestant action and help relieve cough.
Eat chicken soup Eight hundred years ago, Egyptian rabbis and doctors recommended chicken soup for colds. It’s been a mainstay of folk medicine ever since. A Florida researcher showed that chicken soup does, indeed, relieve nasal congestion better than plain hot water. What’s more, Dr. Stephen Rennard, a cold researcher from the University of Nebraska, confirmed the cold-fighting benefits of chicken soup -- as well as vegetable soup (without chicken) containing onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips and parsnips.
Try echinacea and andrographis Recent research confirms that echinacea, the most popular herbal cold remedy, can indeed shorten a cold by 1.4 days. And several studies have shown that an Indian herb called andrographis has anti-viral action and can both ease cold symptoms and shorten their duration.
Consider vitamin C and zinc Australian researchers analyzed 29 studies and found that vitamin C offers modest benefits, speeding recovery by half a day. The jury’s still out, however, on zinc. Some studies show significant benefits; others do not.
Use over-the-counter (OTC) cold formulas with care After reviewing 51 studies of OTC cold formulas, Canadian researchers concluded that cold formulas neither attack the virus nor help the body fight it, so they have no effect on a cold’s duration. However, they do suppress symptoms, which can provide modest relief -- but only for people over age 5. In preschoolers, OTC cold formulas have no benefit at all. What’s more, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ruled that OTC cold products should not be given to children under 2 years because they may cause potentially serious side effects in infants.
If you decide to reach for an OTC remedy, keep in mind that most doctors discourage all-in-one shotgun cold formulas. Why take a cough suppressant if all you have is a stuffed nose? Instead, look for single products for each of your symptoms: anesthetic lozenges for a sore throat, decongestant for nasal congestion, antihistamine for a runny nose, cough suppressant for a cough. Then curl up with a hot beverage, eat your chicken soup and don’t forget to turn in early.
Michael Castleman has been called "one of the nation's leading health writers" (Library Journal). He is the author of 11 consumer health books and more than 1,500 health articles for magazines and the Web. Michael is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.