Combating Colds, Fending Off the Flu: What Works?

Cough and sniffle season is well underway. Whether you?re coping with a common cold or a debilitating case of the flu, you?re likely searching for ways to feel better fast and prevent a recurrence. Here, EN updates you on popular strategies to prevent and manage symptoms.

Can You Count on C? Contrary to popular belief, even high doses of vitamin C cannot prevent you from getting a cold. And now it appears its usefulness in calming cold symptoms is in jeopardy as well.
   A large review of 30 placebo-controlled trials of more than 11,000 people who took at least 200 milligrams of vitamin C a day found no reduction in the incidence of colds and a clinically insignificant decrease in the duration and severity of symptoms. Since many previous positive results with C used doses of one to two grams, the jury is still out on C.

Zap It with Zinc? While zinc’s role in maintaining healthy immune function is undisputed, its effectiveness in fighting the common cold remains controversial. Multiple studies examining the use of zinc gluconate lozenges for colds have shown mixed results. One analysis of several previous studies found only weak evidence of the effectiveness of such lozenges in reducing cold duration. Research results with zinc acetate and zinc sulfate have also been inconsistent.

To Echinacea or Not? A recent analysis in The Lancet examined 14 trials and found that taking Echinacea reduced the odds of developing a cold by 58% and reduced the duration of colds that did occur by a day and a half. The researchers concluded that Echinacea may help decrease the severity of cough, headache and nasal congestion symptoms.
   The studies varied in dosage, duration and the specific variety of Echinacea used, however, so knowing exactly what to take is hard to pinpoint.
   Moreover, the findings conflict with those of other research, including a 2005 University of Virginia study that found none of three specially prepared Echinacea extracts had any effect on how often the participants in their study caught colds or on the severity of their symptoms. If you do take Echinacea, some research suggests you need to start at the very first sign of symptoms for it to be effective. Failure of participants to do that could skew study findings.

Got Ginseng? It’s not as familiar a combatant, but a 2006 Canadian study found ginseng may help lessen the duration and severity of cold symptoms and possibly help prevent colds altogether. But previous research results have been mixed. In the Canadian study, those who received 200 milligrams of a standardized supplement of North American ginseng twice a day came down with 13% fewer colds than the placebo group. Those who did get sick were laid low for 35% fewer days.

Being Active May Help Most. Exercise may be your best defense, as it has shown benefits against both colds and flu. In one study, 115 overweight or obese postmenopausal women were divided into two groups?one exercised for 45 minutes, five days a week for a year, while the other stretched for 45 minutes once a week. Those who merely stretched came down with three times as many colds as the exercisers, suggesting that regular exercise boosts the immune system.
   Moreover, working out before getting a flu shot may make the vaccine more effective, according to British researchers. A group of 40 men and women lifted weights for about 25 minutes before receiving their flu shots, while 20 others rested and then got their shots. Researchers found a consistently better immune response in the weight-lifting group.

Scrub-a-Dub-Dub. Of course, a proven way to prevent the spread of colds is to wash your hands. Cold and flu viruses stay viable for hours on objects like telephones and door handles, and are easily passed to the next person who touches them. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.

EN‘s Bottom Line. Despite years of research, there are still no known cures for colds and flu, so prevention should be your number one priority. In addition to the suggestions above, eat a healthful diet, get adequate sleep and get a flu shot.

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