The distinct downturn in the temperature that comes at this time of year inevitably signals an upsurge in the numbers of individuals going down with a cold. On any given day, nigh on a million people in the UK will be blighted by the common cold, and each of us can expect to endure some 200 such infections during our lifetime. Despite its perennial frequency, the cold virus appears to have remained immune to medical advances made in the last century. Not uncommonly we are reminded that while men take rockets to the moon, doctors and scientists have been unable to find a cure for this most ubiquitous of infections. However, contrary to popular opinion, science shows that the common cold is susceptible to treatment, in the form of specific vitamins, minerals and herbs. There is indeed good evidence to suggest that natural remedies for winter infections are nothing to sniff at.
Our susceptibility to infection is essentially dictated by the efficiency of our immune system ” the part of the body responsible for repelling unwanted organisms including the virus responsible for the common cold. One natural agent renowned for its immune strengthening and anti-viral actions in the body is vitamin C. Loading up on vitamin C rich foods such as citrus and kiwi fruits during the cold season may possibly help to keep winter infections at bay. However, a more aggressive approach is likely to work better if an infection is threatening. Studies suggest that taking 1.5 – 4 g of vitamin C taken in divided doses during the day at the onset of a cold reduces the duration of the infection by about a third. My experience is that a heavier-handed approach is often even more effective. Taking 1 ” 2 g of vitamin C every two waking hours until a day or two after symptoms disappear seems to stop most colds in their tracks.
Another useful nutrient for combating the common cold is zinc, perhaps through its ability to inhibit the virus responsible for cold infections. One study found that sucking a zinc lozenge every two waking hours reduced the average duration of colds by seven days compared to placebo (inactive medication). The precise form of the zinc in the lozenge is important ” it should be zinc gluconate. One downside of zinc gluconate lozenges is that they taste pretty dreadful, though this relatively minor inconvenience seems to be heavily outweighed by the benefits brought in terms of cold relief.
Another infection-fighter oft used in natural medicine is the Echinacea. This herb has proven immune stimulating activity, and one study found that taking it reduced the duration of cold infections by half. Tinctures (alcoholic extracts) of Echinacea are available in health food stores. I recommend taking 20 drops of tincture every two hours at the first signs of infection for two days, followed by 20 drops, three times a day for up to 10 days. While vitamin C, zinc lozenges or Echinacea all seem to have infection-fighting capacity, I find taking two or three of these of natural agents at the same time tends to work best. With a combined approach, don’t be surprised if you find the common cold turns out not to be so common after all.