Although Americans are hit with 1 billion colds each year, most view it as some invisible enemy to which they’ll inevitably succumb.
We wait until the running nose and sore throat symptoms set in and then head to our local pharmacy to self-medicate or hit the nearest urgent care so we can try to make it to work the next day. However, a new review from the Canadian Medical Association offers possible alternatives that might not be part of our current five point plan for the onset of sick season.
What’s the potential panacea? Some studies are looking to zinc and hand washing.
That’s right. To avoid colds, results from 67 trials showed that viral spread was reduced by a good soapy skin scouring. They also indicated that some of the kids who took zinc didn’t catch colds as commonly as other children. In fact, the same study suggests that some of the existing go-to protocol on which many rely may not be very helpful after all. Probiotics are still considered helpful to ward off sickness, and ibuprofen or acetaminophen will assuage the aches once it’s too late. However, traditional remedies like Echinacea, ginseng, vapour rubs, and cough medicine were found to have fewer clear benefits.
Additionally, even the effectiveness of Vitamin C was questioned by the study. Dr. Michael Allan, a family doctor and associate professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Alberta, claimed that Vitamin C was found to have “no meaningful benefit in the average patient,” and went on to say, “The average adult would need to use vitamin C for 10 or 15 years to prevent one cold.”
Okay, so those herbs might not be as helpful as we thought; but they certainly won’t hurt you to take when the sniffles initiate. What will do more harm than good is taking antibiotics for a cold.
Why? First, antibiotics won’t work on viruses. Simply put, it all boils down to what kind of microbe is eating you at the moment. Antibiotics are meant to maim bacteria (which are living things); but when we catch the common cold, it’s a virus (non-living thing) causing our illness. But, since they can’t be killed, that’s why you have to just wait for it to pass and manage the symptoms. If that was too boring to follow, use this reductive analogy instead: using antibiotics against viruses is like trying to kill an android with arsenic. It does not compute.
Also, it allows bacteria that are just hanging out and minding their own business in our bodies to mutate into super Chuck Norris bacteria. Then we’re really in trouble. Enough from the soapbox, though. Let’s look to the resolutions!
How helpful could this Zinc be?
It depends. Tests with zinc sulphate supplements of 10 mg or 15 mg a day resulted in fewer colds for the zinc group versus the control. However, the devil is always in the details. While those studies did indicate that zinc lessened the time adults spent sick, it was by a whopping one and a half days… and even that comes from an experiment where adults took a 23-mg zinc gluconate lozenge every two hours.
Ultimately, the results were mixed. Allan said that, “kids in these studies did not get a benefit, but adults did,” adding that Zinc should never be used via nasal spray because “a few cases have linked it to the loss of smell.”
Allan concedes, “I certainly don’t want to be telling parents to put their children on zinc every day to prevent the common cold. The research is not very robust.”
In the end, the preventative hand-washing is always good advice, while the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” saying seems best with respect to any medicinal plan (especially when it comes to experimenting on your kids). If a seasonal cold is really just an annoyance your current herbal remedies resolve pretty well, it may or may not be worth trying out a new supplement like Zinc. But if you are going to give it a go, Dr. Oz suggests starting the supplements the day you begin to get symptoms and keeping it up until you’re fully recovered.
Cold symptoms usually end between 7 and 10 days. Anyone still suffering after that, may find that a medical follow up is the best route.
Images via Youtube