Herbal Therapy and the Common Cold – Shelby Sun

As a doctor I rarely recommend herbal or alternative therapy for the common cold to my patients, but as a parent I use it all the time. Why such different behaviors?

The common cold is “common” occurring 1 to 3 times a year in an average American. Yet, the common cold is not trivial; it leads to 26 million missed school days and 23 million absences from work per year.

The common cold is not one virus but multitudes of viruses that attack our upper respiratory system and make life miserable for us for a few days. In research trials no antibiotic or antiviral drug has shown to prevent or treat the common cold, but decongestants and cough suppressants can help relieve the symptoms.

However, there are alternative therapies like Vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, and ginger, which can possibly shorten the symptoms of the common cold. Dr. Linus Pauling, the Nobel Prize winner, was the first to show a connection between the common cold and Vitamin C. Over the years clinical trials have not shown that large doses of Vitamin C can cure a cold. According to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Vitamin C may reduce the severity or duration of symptoms, but large doses of Vitamin C can be harmful.

Echinaces, a herbal root extract, may help to treat the cold if taken in early stages. This treatment is very popular in Germany and readily available in drug stores.

Our family’s favorite herbal therapy is ginger tea. Again, no study has shown it to be an effective treatment, but like other treatments such as zinc, ginger can help improve the immune system and relieve some of the symptoms of the cold. One of the best treatments I have found is rest. But, again I have not seen a rigorous clinical trial on its benefit either.

So if you are feeling under the weather due to a cold this season, then it’s probably best to remember the comment from the editors of the Wellness Encyclopedia of the University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter “There is little or nothing that a doctor can do for the common cold.”

Hence, it is best to resort to your mother’s remedy – it will give you and your mother solace that you are doing something for the cold.