Alternative medicineBy Mayo Clinic staff
In spite of ongoing studies, the scientific jury is still out on common alternative cold remedies such as vitamin C and echinacea. Here's an update on some popular choices:
- Vitamin C. It appears that for the most part taking vitamin C won't help the average person prevent colds. However, taking vitamin C at the onset of cold symptoms may shorten the duration of symptoms.
- Echinacea. Studies on the effectiveness of echinacea at preventing or shortening colds are mixed. Some studies show no benefit. Others show a significant reduction in the severity and duration of cold symptoms when taken in the early stages of a cold. One reason study results have been inconclusive may be that the type of echinacea plant and the preparation used from one study to the next have varied considerably. Research on the role of echinacea in treating the common cold is ongoing. In the meantime, if your immune system is healthy and you are not taking prescription medications, using echinacea supplements is unlikely to cause harm.
Zinc. The cold-fighting reputation of zinc has had its ups and downs. That's because many zinc studies — both those that find the mineral beneficial and those that do not — are flawed. In studies with positive results, zinc seemed most effective taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. Taking zinc with food may reduce side effects, including a bad taste and nausea.
Intranasal zinc may result in permanent damage to the sense of smell. In June 2009, the FDA issued a warning against using three zinc-containing nasal cold remedies because they had been associated with a long-lasting or permanent loss of smell (anosmia).
- Fashner J, et al. Treatment of the common cold in adults and children. American Family Physician. 2012;86:153.
- Goldman L, et al. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2012. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/191371208-2/0/1492/0.html#. Accessed Jan. 9, 2013.f
- Pappas DE, et al. The common cold in children: Clinical features and diagnosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 9, 2013.
- Kliegman RM, et al. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2011. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/208746819-6/0/1608/0.html. Accessed Jan. 9, 2013.
- Get set for winter illness season. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm092805.htm. Accessed Jan. 9, 2013.
- Stopping the spread of germs at home, work and school. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/stopgerms.htm. Accessed Jan. 9, 2013.
- Pappas DE, et al. The common cold in children: Treatment and prevention. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 9, 2013.
- Dykewicz MS, et al. Rhinitis and sinusitis. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2010;125:S103.
- Public health advisory: FDA recommends that over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products not be used for infants and children under 2 years of age. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/drugs/drugsafety/postmarketdrugsafetyinformationforpatientsandproviders/drugsafetyinformationforheathcareprofessionals/publichealthadvisories/ucm051137.htm. Accessed Jan. 9, 2013.
- What to do in a medical emergency: Fever. American College of Emergency Physicians. http://www.emergencycareforyou.org/EmergencyManual/WhatToDoInMedicalEmergency/Default.aspx?id=242&terms=fever. Accessed Jan. 9, 2013.
- Sexton DJ, et al. The common cold in adults: Treatment and prevention. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 9, 2013.
- Linde K, et al. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000530.pub2/abstract. Accessed Jan. 10, 2013.
- Singh D, et al. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD001364.pub3/abstract. Accessed Jan. 10, 2013.
- The flu, the common cold and complementary health practices. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/flu/ataglance.htm. Accessed Jan. 9, 2013.
- When to call the pediatrician: Fever. American Academy of Pediatrics. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/fever/pages/When-to-Call-the-Pediatrician.aspx. Accessed Jan. 11, 2013.
- Steckelberg JM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Jan. 11, 2013.
- Sullivan JE, et al. Clinical report: Fever and antipyretic use in children. Pediatrics. 2011;127:580.