Most people contract one or more colds every year. A cold is caused by viruses that infect cells of the upper respiratory tract. Since there are over 200 different species and strains of these viruses, a cold caused by one virus does not protect a person from catching a cold cause by a different one. This explains why colds can occur one after another or several times a year. An acute sore throat, on the other hand can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection. If your sore throat gets worse no matter what you do, it’s probably bacterial and may require a trip to the doctor for an antibiotic. The well-known symptoms of a cold include stuffy nose, watery eyes, low fever, aching, and possibly a sore throat.
Conventional medical treatment for a cold generally involves rest, aspirin, decongestants, and drinking a lot of fluids. Conventional medical treatment for a sore throat also involves rest, aspirin, lots of fluids, and sometimes antibiotics. An integrative approach may also include supplementation with vitamin C, zinc lozenges, Echinacea, vitamin A, and a homeopathic remedy for colds.
Since the late, great Nobel Laureate, Linus Pauling first discussed that megadoses of vitamin C might be an effective treatment for the common cold, the medical world has published study after study attempting to prove or disprove Pauling’s claim. In some cases, the studies were flawed since the amounts of vitamin C used were hardly megadoses, and were not sufficient to elicit a response.
Placebo-controlled studies have shown that vitamin C supplementation decreases the duration and severity of common cold infections. However, the magnitude of the benefit has substantially varied, hampering conclusions about the clinical significance of the vitamin. In one published review, 23 studies with regular vitamin C supplementation were analyzed to find out factors that may explain some part of the variation in the results. It was found that on an average, vitamin C produces greater benefit for children than for adults. Perhaps of greatest significance, the dose also affects the magnitude of the benefit, there being on average greater benefit from at least 2000 mg daily compared to 1000 mg daily. For example, in five studies with adults administered 1000 mg daily of vitamin C, the median decrease in cold duration was only six percent, whereas in two studies with children administered 2000 mg daily, the median decrease was four times higher, 26 percent. The studies analyzed in this review used regular vitamin C supplementation. The authors of the review, however, noted that, “it is conceivable that therapeutic supplementation starting early at the onset of the cold episode could produce comparable benefits.”1
In fact, this is exactly what took place in a recent study involving 252 adult subjects with a cold or flu who were treated with hourly doses of 1000 mg of vitamin C for the first six hours, and then three times daily thereafter. A control group of 463 subjects were treated with pain relievers and decongestants. The results were that overall reported flu and cold symptoms in the vitamin C group decreased 85 percent compared with the control group after the administration of megadose Vitamin C. The researchers in this study concluded: “Vitamin C in megadoses administered before or after the appearance of cold and flu symptoms relieved and prevented the symptoms in the test population compared with the control group.”2
I’ve also found effective results with the common cold when supplementing with higher doses of vitamin C. I recommend 1000–2000 mg every two hours (reduce dose if experiencing loose bowels).
Zinc’s role in immune function is well established.3 The use of zinc in a lozenge form for the treatment of the common cold is also gaining validity. In one randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, the treatment of the common cold with zinc lozenges resulted in a significant reduction in duration of symptoms of the cold. The zinc group had significantly fewer days with coughing, headache, hoarseness, nasal congestion, nasal drainage, and sore throat. Cold symptoms were over in 4.4 days in the zinc group compared with 7.6 days in the placebo group.4
Echinacea is an immune stimulant/supporter, and is excellent in the prevention and treatment of colds and influenza. Research suggests that Echinacea supports the immune system by activating white blood cells (lymphocytes and macrophages).5 In addition, Echinacea appears to increase the production of interferon, which is important to the immune response of viral infections.6 In any case, a number of double-blind, clinical studies have confirmed Echinacea's effectiveness in treating colds and flu.7,8,9,10,11 However, some research suggests that Echinacea may be more effective if used at the onset of these conditions.12,13
In addition, the results of a published study involving 238 subjects confirmed that Echinacea was safe and effective in producing a rapid improvement of cold symptoms. In the subgroup of patients who started therapy at an early phase of their cold, the effectiveness of Echinacea was most prominent.14 In a similar study, 246 subjects with a cold were treated with Echinacea preparations or a placebo. Those treated with the Echinacea preparations experienced a reduction of symptoms, significantly more effective than the placebo. The researchers concluded that the Echinacea preparations, "represent a low-risk and effective alternative to the standard symptomatic medicines in the acute treatment of common cold." 15
Homeopathic Remedy For Colds
In one clinical study, 170 soldiers suffering from the common cold were treated with either a combination homeopathic preparation, or aspirin. On the 4th and 10th treatment days, both the homeopathic remedy and the aspirin were found to possess comparative effectiveness in the treatment of the common cold.16 Another study involving 53 outpatients suffering from common cold found similar results.17
Vitamin A's role in maintaining healthy epithelial tissue helps to fight infection by preventing the invasion of bacteria or viruses. In addition, children with even mild vitamin A deficiency develop respiratory infections and diarrhea at two and three times the rate of children with normal vitamin A status.18
- Hemila H, Med Hypotheses (1999) 52(2):171–8.
- Gorton HC, Jarvis K, J Manipulative Physiol Ther (1999) 22(8):530–3.
- Whitney E, Cataldo C, Rolfes S, "Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition," Fifth Edition (1998) West/Wadsworth, Belmont, California, p.463–4.
- Mossad SB, et al, Ann Intern Med (1996) 125(2):81–8.
- See DM, Broumand N, Sahl L, Tilles JG. In vitro effects of echinacea and ginseng on natural killer and antibody-dependent cell cytotoxicity in healthy subjects and chronic fatigue syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome patients. Immunpharmacol 1997;35:229–35.
- Leuttig B, Steinmuller C, Gifford GE, et al. Macrophage activation by the polysaccharide arabinogalactan isolated from plant cell cultures of Echinacea purpurea. J Natl Cancer Inst 1989;81:669–75.
- Melchart D, Linde K, Worku F, et al. Immunomodulation with Echinacea—a systematic review of controlled clinical trials. Phytomedicine 1994;1:245–54.
- Dorn M, Knick E, Lewith G. Placebo-controlled, double-blind study of Echinacea pallida redix in upper respiratory tract infections. Comp Ther Med 1997;5:40–2.
- Hoheisel O, Sandberg M, Bertram S, et al. Echinacea shortens the course of the common cold: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Eur J Clin Res 1997;9:261–8.
- Braunig B, Dorn M, Knick E. Echinacea purpurea root for strengthening the immune response to flu-like infections. Zeitschrift Phytotherapie 1992;13:7–13.
- Brikenborn RM, Shah DV, Degenring FH. Echinaforce® and other Echinacea fresh plant preparations in the treatment of the common cold. A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial. Phytomedicine 1999;6:1–5.
- Melchart D, Walther E, Linde K, et al. Echinacea root extracts for the prevention of upper respiratory tract infections: A double-blind, placebocontrolled randomized trial. Arch Fam Med 1998;7:541–5.
- Grimm W, Müller HH. A randomized controlled trial of the effect of fluid extract of Echinacea purpurea on the incidence and severity of colds and respiratory tract infections. Am J Med 1999;106:138–43.
- Henneicke-von Zepelin H, et al, Curr Med Res Opin (1999) 15(3):214–27.
- Brinkeborn RM, Shah DV, Degenring FH, Phytomedicine (1999) 6(1):1–6.
- Maiwald VL, et al, Arzneimittelforschung (1988) 38(4):578-82.
- Gassinger CA, Wunstel G, Netter P, Arzneimittelforschung (1981) 31(4):732–6.
- Whitney E, Cataldo C, Rolfes S, "Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition," Fifth Edition (1998) West/Wadsworth, Belmont, California, p.
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Gene Bruno, MS, MHS
Gene Bruno is the Dean of Academics and Professor of Dietary Supplement Science for Huntington College of Health Sciences (a nationally accredited distance learning college offering diplomas and degrees in nutrition and other health science related subjects. Gene has two undergraduate Diplomas in Nutrition, a Bachelor’s in Nutrition, a Master’s in Nutrition, a Graduate Diploma in Herbal Medicine, and a Master’s in Herbal Medicine. As a 32 year veteran of the Dietary Supplement industry, Gene has educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals, has researched and formulated natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies, and has written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer magazines, and peer-reviewed publications. Gene's latest book, A Guide to Complimentary Treatments for Diabetes, is available on Amazon.com, and other fine retailers.