Dr. Walt's Health Blog

Archives for posts tagged ‘common cold prevention’

Zinc for the common cold—not if, but when

A new Cochrane Review finds that zinc supplementation CAN reduce the duration and severity of a cold SOME, but ONLY if it’s started early on.

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Busted: Top five flu myths

‘Tis the season for colder weather, impending family gatherings, holiday preparations … and sick days caused by colds and the flu. Along with flu season comes the age-old bits of wisdom from our grandmothers (and their grandmothers). What’s correct and what’s a myth?

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Cold and Flu Old Wives’ Tales Debunked

Was mom’s stay-well advice right? Don’t go out with wet hair. Rest. Cover your mouth when you cough.

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Probiotics may be an effective remedy for colds

As we head into the cough and cold season, I thought this post might be of interest. Especially since acute upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs or “colds”) are the most common reason people  seek medical care in the U.S. It’s said there are up to one billion colds reported in the U.S. each  year. Now there’s another option for trying to prevent them.

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If you’re going to take echinacea for the common cold …

In a recent blog, “Echinacea demonstrates little benefit in treating common cold,” I told you about new research suggesting echinacea is NOT effective for reducing cold symptoms.

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What Natural Medications are Possibly Effective for the Common Cold?

Possibly Effective:
ANDROGRAPHIS (Possibly Effective) View ALL Products Containing: ANDROGRAPHIS
Common cold
Some clinical research shows that taking a specific andrographis extract, in combination with Siberian ginseng (Kan Jang, Swedish Herbal Institute) orally, significantly improve symptoms of the common cold when started within 72 hours of symptom onset. Some symptoms can improve after 2 days of treatment. It typically takes 4-5 days of treatment before there is maximal symptom relief (2744,2773,2774,5784,10795,12380). Some research suggests this combination of andrographis and Siberian ginseng relieves cold symptoms better than Echinacea or placebo in children (12381).
BIFIDOBACTERIA (Possibly Effective) View ALL Products Containing: BIFIDOBACTERIA
Respiratory tract infections
Some clinical research shows children ages 3 to 5 years who attend day-care centers have significantly fewer influenza-like respiratory symptoms when given milk containing a specific combination of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium animalis (HOWARU Protect, Danisco). Children taking this product had a 45% lower risk of experiencing fever, cough, rhinorrhea compared to placebo. The duration of symptoms was also 2 days shorter in patients taking this combination. These patients were also significantly less likely to use an antibiotic for their symptoms (16847).
ECHINACEA (Possibly Effective) View ALL Products Containing: ECHINACEA
Common cold
Clinical studies and meta-analyses show that taking some echinacea preparations can modestly reduce cold symptom severity and duration, possibly by about 10% to 30% (1412,3281,6384,6385,6392,6417,10320,10782,10802,12355) (14419,17520); however, this level of symptom reduction might not be clinically meaningful for some patients.
GINSENG, AMERICAN (Possibly Effective) View ALL Products Containing: GINSENG, AMERICAN
Respiratory tract infections
Some evidence suggests that taking a specific American ginseng extract called CVT-E002 (Cold-FX, Afexa Life Sciences, Canada) 200 mg twice daily over a 3-4 month period during influenza season might modestly decrease the risk of developing symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection such as the common cold or flu in adults aged 18 to 65 and older (11351,13192,14345). This extract also seems to reduce the symptom severity and duration of symptoms when infections do occur (13192,14345).
GINSENG, SIBERIAN (Possibly Effective) View ALL Products Containing: GINSENG, SIBERIAN
Common cold
Some clinical research shows that taking a specific combination product containing Siberian ginseng plus andrographis (Kan Jang, Swedish Herbal Institute) orally significantly improves symptoms of the common cold when started within 72 hours of symptom onset. Some symptoms can improve after 2 days of treatment. It typically takes 4-5 days of treatment before there is maximal symptom relief (2744,2773,2774,5784,10795,12380). Some research suggests this combination of Siberian ginseng and andrographis relieves cold symptoms better than Echinacea or placebo in children (12381).
LACTOBACILLUS (Possibly Effective) View ALL Products Containing: LACTOBACILLUS
Respiratory tract infections
Clinical research shows that children ages 1 to 6 years who attend daycare centers get fewer and less severe respiratory infections when given milk that contains a specific strain of Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus GG (Culturelle). These children also seem to have fewer days of illness-related absence (8565). Additional clinical research shows children ages 3 to 5 years who attend daycare centers have significantly fewer influenza-like respiratory symptoms when given milk containing a specific combination of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium animalis (HOWARU Protect, Danisco). Children taking this product had a 45% lower risk of experiencing fever, cough, and rhinorrhea compared to placebo. The duration of symptoms was also 2 days shorter in patients taking this combination. These patients were also significantly less likely to use an antibiotic for their symptoms. Patients who took Lactobacillus acidophilus without Bifodobacterium also had significantly reduced fever, cough, and use of antibiotics, but not rhinorrhea (16847).
LEMON BALM (Possibly Effective) View ALL Products Containing: LEMON BALM
Herpes labialis (cold sores)
Applying a lip balm containing 1% lemon balm extract seems to shorten healing time, prevent infection spread, and reduce symptoms of recurring herpes labialis (790,9995).
LYSINE (Possibly Effective) View ALL Products Containing: LYSINE
Herpes labialis (cold sores)
Taking lysine orally seems to reduce recurrences of herpes simplex labialis infections (1114,1115,1116,1118,1120), and reduce the severity and healing time of herpes simplex labialis infections (1119,1120). Applying lysine topically also seems to help treat herpes simplex infection (11051). A specific combination product containing lysine and zinc oxide plus 14 other ingredients (Super Lysine Plus +) seems to decrease symptoms and duration of herpes lesions when applied topically every 2 hours (11051).
NASAL IRRIGATION (Possibly Effective) View ALL Products Containing: NASAL IRRIGATION
Upper respiratory tract infection (URTI)
Clinical research shows that isotonic saline nasal irrigation significantly reduces symptoms of the common cold including rhinitis, sore throat, cough, and nasal obstructor and secretion in children with the common cold or flu. Nasal irrigation also reduced the use of other medications including antipyretics, decongestants, mucolytics, and anti-infectives (16141).
RHUBARB (Possibly Effective) View ALL Products Containing: RHUBARB
Herpes labialis (cold sores)
Applying rhubarb topically in combination with sage (Salvia officinalis) seems to improve herpes labialis (cold sores). Treatment of herpes labialis with a cream containing rhubarb and sage may be about as effective as acyclovir (Zovirax) cream. Acyclovir cream heals lesions in about 6.3 days; the rhubarb and sage cream heals lesions in about 7.2 days (10437).
SAGE (Possibly Effective) View ALL Products Containing: SAGE
Herpes labialis (cold sores)
Topical treatment of herpes labialis with a cream containing sage and rhubarb (Rheum officinale and Rheum palmatum) may be about as effective as acyclovir (Zovirax) cream. Acyclovir cream provides healing of lesions in 6.3 days; the sage and rhubarb cream provides healing of lesion in 7.2 days. The combination of sage and rhubarb appears to improve the time to healing and to reduce pain, compared with sage alone (10437).
THYMUS EXTRACT (Possibly Effective) View ALL Products Containing: THYMUS EXTRACT
Respiratory tract infections
Taking thymus extract orally may be effective for treating adults and children with recurrent respiratory infections (938,6696,6697,6698,6699). Thymomodulin (calf thymus extract) treatment seems to reduce the number of infections or coughing attacks in patients with recurrent respiratory infections (6697,6698,6699). Thymomodulin (calf thymus extract) alone, or in combination with vaccine, seems to be more effective than vaccine alone or antibiotics in reducing the number and duration of infections in adults with recurrent respiratory infections (938).
VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID) (Possibly Effective) View ALL Products Containing: VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
Common cold
There is a lot of controversy about the effectiveness of vitamin C for treating the common cold (1969,1989,7100,9835,9836). However, the majority of evidence shows that taking high doses of vitamin C orally might decrease the duration of cold symptoms by 1-1.5 days in some patients (1966,1967,1968,1987,6458,7102,9832). Other studies have found no effect with doses up to 3 grams daily (9833). Some research suggests vitamin C may be more effective for treating cold symptoms in children than in adults. There may also be a dose-dependent response; doses of at least 2 grams per day seem to work better than 1 gram doses (9834). Tell patients that the high doses used for treating the common cold, 1-3 grams daily, can increase the risk of side effects. Some patients might not think the modest benefit is worth the risk. Explain to patients that taking vitamin C supplements prophylactically does not decrease the risk of catching a cold (1966,1967,1968,1987,3042,6458,7101,9832). Dietary intake of vitamin C also doesn’t seem to affect the risk of getting a cold (10780).
ZINC (Possibly Effective) View ALL Products Containing: ZINC
Common cold
Using zinc oral lozenges seems to help decrease the duration of the common cold in adults. The majority of studies show a significant decrease in the duration of symptoms of the common cold when adults take zinc gluconate or acetate lozenges providing 9-24 mg elemental zinc per dose. Lozenges should be taken every 2 hours while awake, starting within 48 hours of symptom onset (333,334,335,337,6703,6705). However, not all studies have been positive (333,338,339,6521,6522,6700). The reasons for these different findings are not clear, but might be due to differences in zinc formulations and study methodologies. In some cases, flavoring agents such as citric acid, mannitol, and sorbitol might chelate zinc and decrease zinc ionization. Since zinc ionization is thought to be an important step involved in the effectiveness of zinc, a decrease in zinc ionization could decrease effectiveness (300,340,6522). Some of the positive studies have also been criticized for inadequately blinding the unpleasant, distinctive taste of zinc (6522,6706). Overall, zinc products seem to be beneficial for reducing the duration of symptoms of the common cold in adults. Zinc from supplements taken prophylactically does not seem to prevent the common cold (10780,10784).

Long-time readers of this blog know how much I trust, how often I recommend, and how often I use in my practice the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. This trustworthy and evidence-based website (requires subscription) rates natural medications (herbs, vitamins, and supplements) for a wide variety of indications.

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Echinacea demonstrates little benefit in treating common cold

In my book, Alternative Medicine: The options, the claims, the evidence, how to choose wisely I write, “Millions of people take echinacea because they’re convinced it works to combat the common cold, for which there of course, is no cure.”

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Regular exercise wards off colds and flu

Earlier this week I discussed how regular exercise can reduce your risk of depression. It can also help you reduce your risk or colds and the flu.

The CNN “The Chart” blog reported, “Working out regularly helps ward off colds and flu,” according to a study published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

HealthDay reported that after collecting “data on 1,002 men and women from ages 18 to 85,” investigators “tracked the number of upper respiratory tract infections the participants suffered” over 12 weeks during the fall and winter of 2008.

Study participants also “reported how much and what kinds of aerobic exercise they did weekly.”

The study authors found that “people who were physically fit and who engaged in exercise five or more days per week were about half as likely to suffer cold symptoms compared to participants who reported less physical activity,” WebMD (11/1, Hendrick) reported.

“What is more, researchers say the severity of symptoms fell by 41% among those who felt fittest and by 31% among the most physically active.”

According to MedPage Today, “In addition to the number of days spent with an upper respiratory tract infection, the severity and symptomatology of such infections was reduced as well, by 32% to 41% between the high versus low aerobic activity and physical fitness tertiles (P<0.05 for all). There were also significant reductions in the middle tertiles.

So, ’tis the season to begin some regular exercise. The benefits are huge!

Suplements for Colds or the Flu. What works? What does not?

Demand continues to rise for supplements for colds and flu … despite the lack of hard evidence for most of them. However, some may work. Find out more about them here.
Nasal saline irrigation can reduce nasal congestion, sore throat, and cough. I suggest that my patients irrigate once a day or more often if needed.
Zinc lozenges might help decrease a cold’s duration. But I caution my patients that zinc has a metallic taste and too much can lead to copper deficiency.
The Natural Medicines Database tells doctors, “Remind people to throw away old recalled Zicam nasal products. Nasal zinc can cause a loss of smell.”
Adequate vitamin D levels are associated with a lower risk of respiratory infections. This looks promising, but it doesn’t prove that vitamin D prevents colds and flu. I try to remind people to get enough vitamin D … especially in the winter when there’s less sun.
Vitamin C is controversial. Some studies show it might help treat colds … but it doesn’t prevent them. The Natural Medicines Database says, “Warn patients the 1 to 3 grams per day used to treat colds can cause diarrhea.”
American ginseng (Cold-fX, etc) seems to SLIGHTLY reduce the severity or number of upper respiratory infections. About 1 in 4 people might get one fewer cold over 4 months.
For those of you on Coumadin (warfarin), keep in mind that American ginseng can decrease your INR.
Echinacea might modestly decrease a cold’s severity and duration in some people … but, like vitamin C, it doesn’t prevent colds. I advise people not to use it if they are allergic to ragweed – since cross reactions have been reported.
Elderberry might shorten flu symptoms by a few days. I recommend a product with some evidence of benefit such as Sambucol.
Lactobacillus probiotics with or without Bifidobacterium might help decrease the number or severity of upper respiratory infections.
The Natural Medicines Database says, “Tell people not to depend on Airborne, Umcka ColdCare, astragalus, Asian ginseng, garlic, or oscillococcinum … there’s not convincing evidence that these will prevent or treat colds or flu.”
The Database also says, “Caution patients not to fall for internet scams promoting flu supplements. Warn high-risk patients not to rely on supplements, but to call (their doctor) promptly instead for possible (prescription) antiviral treatment.”
Demand continues to rise for supplements for colds and flu, despite the lack of hard evidence for most of them. However, some may work. Find out more about them here.

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Preventive Probiotics Cut Cold Symptoms in Kids

When given preventively over the winter months, probiotics reduce fever, cough, and runny noses in children, researchers said in a new study. They found that a 6-month course of probiotics – good bacteria that can aid immune function – was a safe and effective way to ward off flu symptoms and reduce their duration in 3 -5 year olds.

More Information:

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10 Ways to Prevent Your Child From Catching the Flu

With winter cold comes the flu season, when more time spent indoors means more opportunities for the virus to spread. Some physicians who care for children have had their shipment of flu vaccines for almost two months, and other organizations are pushing influenza prevention through vaccination as well. One of these, Say Boo to the Flu, ties its efforts to Halloween – having children dress up in costume for a night of games where they and their families can get flu shots. But what else can you do to keep to flu virus from infecting your kids?

More Information:

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10 Foods to Kick a Cold and Boost Your Immunity

Many people, when they are feeling miserable from a cold or the flu, get the urge to gorge on food. But picking the right foods may benefit and even speed healing.

More Information:

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CBS Report Casts Doubt On Routine Vitamin Supplements

Vitamin and mineral supplements are, of course, a staple of a lot of people’s lives. But a report from CBS News suggests that some are not only unnecessary, but could be dangerous.

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