Cold season is upon us and many of us run to the medicine cabinet for a zinc lozenge or a pack of Emergen-C. The sad truth behind these popular remedies is that study after study seems to suggest they don’t help much depending on your personal circumstances.
Zinc has been a popular choice ever since a study done in 1984 seemed to show some effectiveness in preventing colds. Since then the research has proven less conclusive. The consensus now is that if zinc is taken at the onset of symptoms it may reduce the length of a cold by one day because zinc may prevent the virus from easily multiplying.[i] Since the normal duration of a cold seems to average 7-10 days but could last as long as 3 weeks, this solution may not sound like much of a remedy.
Science has found only a small benefit in slightly reducing the duration of a cold when people take vitamin C supplements on a regular basis. “The only other piece of evidence supporting vitamin C for cold prevention comes from studies looking at people who exercise in extreme environments, athletes such as skiers and marathon runners, and soldiers in the Arctic. In these studies, vitamin C seemed to reduce the risk of getting a cold.”[ii]
No clear answer here either. Echinacea extract does appear to effect the immune system by increasing the number of white blood cells. However, “two studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine did not find any help for a cold from Echinacea in either children or adults.”[iii]
Colds make us uncomfortable and can be annoying but we need to worry more about preventing influenza. “Some people are at high risk for serious flu complications, including young children, older people, pregnant women and people with certain chronic health conditions.”[iv] The solution is to get vaccinated. If not for yourself, do it to prevent infecting those you come in contact with this holiday season.