Colds: Winter's hot topic
No cure yet,
but a range of natural remedies
help relieve symptoms
VANCOUVER: Amy O'Brian, CanWest News Service: December 26, 2005:
With the exception of the weather and maybe hockey, the details of
our runny noses and scratchy throats -- and the remedies that supposedly cure
them -- seem to seep into more winter conversations among Canadians than any
Everyone has a hand-me-down recipe or wonder-remedy they're eager to share,
ranging from the unpleasant-sounding nasal douche to the tasty hot toddy.
But while every remedy has an advocate, not all remedies are created equal.
Dr. Art Hister, a regular commentator on health issues on radio and television
in B.C., is skeptical of pretty much every natural remedy out there.
"I just don't think there's a whole lot of proof that they work, but on the
other hand I don't think there's any downside to them," Hister says.
"I am a big fan of chicken soup, so that's a natural remedy.
"The more of it you take in, the better. I mean my mother's main phrase in life
is, 'Ess, ess mein kind.' Eat more, eat more. That'll fix everything."
Despite his skepticism, Hister is willing to try new products if he thinks
So when a study was published in late October in the Canadian Medical
Association Journal showing COLD-fx -- a Canadian ginseng-based supplement
developed in Edmonton -- is effective against colds, Hister decided to try it.
Participants in the 323-person study took daily doses of either COLD-fx or a
placebo for four months during the cold and flu season. The results showed that
those who took COLD-fx had fewer upper respiratory infections during the trial
period and their colds were shorter and less severe than those who took the
There haven't been any studies showing the effectiveness of COLD-fx if it's
taken when the first symptoms appear, but Hister tried it and believes it may
have had an effect on his most recent cold.
"I must say, I was skeptical about this stuff. I mean when Don Cherry is
promoting something on TV, you've got to wonder," Hister says.
"On the other hand, I must tell you, I took it this last time because I got a
cold just about the same time the study came out and again, I may be so easy to
convince -- I should probably become a hypnotist's subject -- but hey, my cold
was shorter than it has been in the past."
Allison McCutcheon, president of the Natural Health Product Research Society of
Canada, says there are preventive benefits to several herbs and natural
remedies, but none of them does much of anything once you're in the throes of a
McCutcheon acknowledges evidence on the benefits of echinacea is a bit cloudy,
but believes it works well as a preventive measure against colds.
"It's really key that as soon as you get that first symptom, you start taking
it, right away," she says.
"If you're already two or three days into a cold and then try it, it's not going
to do anything. No point. Save your money."
But unlike COLD-fx, echinacea is not meant to be taken daily throughout the
course of the cold season.
"It's not recommended really to be taken all winter long to prevent a cold
because after a while, the immune stimulant effect actually gets suppressed,"
"So if you want to use it as a preventive, you should be taking it when you're
at high risk, like if someone else in your family has a cold or if you're going
to be on an airplane or if you're going to be cooped up for a long time with
other people who probably have a cold."
It's common sense to avoid squeezing yourself into small spaces with a bunch of
sickies, as is dressing warmly during the winter.
New research shows there is at least some science to that age-old mothers'
admonition that you'll catch your death if you don't wear a warm jacket during
Researchers at Cardiff University's Common Cold Centre recently completed a
study where they paid 90 subjects to sit for 20 minutes with their feet immersed
in icy water. In the days following, 13 of the students reported symptoms such
as runny noses or sore throats. Only five of the 90 students in the control
group reported similar symptoms.
"The theory is that it isn't that the exposure to cold actually produced a cold
in these people, (but that) it stimulated viruses that are all over the place to
grow more easily," Hister explains.
"Hey, my mother always said, 'Don't go out with wet hair 'cause you're going to
catch double pneumonia' ... and you know what? Maybe she was right."
FIGHTING COLDS NATURALLY
A few natural cold remedies that may (or may not) work for you:
- Echinacea: The jury's still out on whether echinacea works, but many people
swear by it. The plant extract is most potent when taken in liquid form. Allison
McCutcheon, president of the Natural Health Product Research Society of Canada,
says it's most beneficial when taken at the very first sign of a sniffle or when
you know you're going to be exposed to sick people.
- Zinc: This mineral is essential to proper functioning of your immune system
and may be effective in reducing the length and severity of a cold if it's taken
as a preventative measure. Nearly all drug stores and health food stores sell
zinc lozenges that also contain vitamin C -- another contentious cold remedy.
- Andrographis: This natural herbal remedy is fairly new to the North American
market, but has been used by Scandinavians for the past decade or so to ward off
colds, and has been used for ages in India (it's also been dubbed "Indian echinacea") and other parts of Asia for gastrointestinal problems and other
ailments. McCutcheon says there is some indication andrographis is even more
beneficial when combined with ginseng.
- Hot Toddy: Hot drinks -- whether alcoholic or not -- are comforting and can
soothe sore throats and coughs. Add a little rum or whisky to your lemon and
honey concoction and you'll likely sleep better too.
© The Edmonton Journal 2005