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Want to fight colds? Here’s what research says actually works

Canadian Living
Health

Want to fight colds? Here’s what research says actually works

Cold Everyone has their own remedy. Some drink a special tea, others take Echinacea or vitamin C. But what does it really take to fend off a cold? I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. James McCormack, a professor in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of British Columbia, about what it really takes to prevent or beat a cold. Unfortunately, says McCormack, there’s not a lot that does work. “If you go to a pharmacy, you’ll see a bazillion cold remedies and almost none of them work. But everybody gets better. That’s where the myth gets started,” he says, adding the old saying: “If you take this medicine, you’ll get better in seven days. If you don’t, you’ll get better in a week.” As shocking as it is for those of us who rely on a regular dose of herbs during cold season, the few methods that do work really aren’t all that surprising. McCormack referred me to a comprehensive report by the University of Alberta’s Dr. Michael Allan, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2014, to see what really works. The report showed the results of a systematic review of a huge number of studies on cold interventions, and hand washing came out as a clear leader. What worked? According to the study, physical interventions, such as washing your hands or using hand sanitizer, worked in the prevention of colds, and small doses of zinc (10 to 15 mg of zinc sulfate orally) were also beneficial. Meanwhile, the authors determined that probiotics may also be helpful in cold prevention. What didn’t work? There was an unclear benefit to gargling, taking garlic or ginseng, or exercising to prevent colds. And there was no benefit to taking vitamin D, vitamin C or Echinacea. What about an existing cold? When it came to treating an existing cold, antihistamines, decongestants, anti-inflammatories and acetaminophen were able to treat some symptoms, and honey showed some promise in relieving coughs in children, but nothing else studied showed a significant benefit, and some even had potential risks. This doesn’t mean that you should totally give up on vitamins that are known to boost immunity, such as vitamin D. But if your main goal in taking them is to prevent common colds, you should re-evaluate your tactic and start washing your hands more regularly. The review is a great reminder that not everything that’s for sale at the drug store will make you feel better when you’re sick. And, when it comes to cold season, it’s all about prevention at the point of contact. So the bottom line? As winter nears, hand washing is your best cold defence! (Photography: Thinkstock)
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Want to fight colds? Here’s what research says actually works

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