Cough & Cold: Trying Natural Products

Mar 21, 2011

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

The long winter has also brought a very long cough and cold season. Most people have been sick enough to miss time at work or school; at least once in the past few months. The common cold is a widespread illness and is a leading cause of doctor visits and the number one cause of absenteeism from work or school.

School aged children can have up to 12 colds per year and adults usually have between two to four episodes annually. Common colds can lead to more complications such as ear infections, sinusitis, and airway problems in those who have asthma or COPD. Currently, there is no proven treatment of the common cold. This is partially because over 200 different kinds of viruses can cause a cold and they are very hard to treat. This is what leads people to try over the counter natural products such as zinc, echinacea, vitamins or Cold FX.

Zinc is one of the essential minerals and it found in the vitamins and minerals area of the pharmacy. Studies completed in the past have shown people treated with zinc had fewer days of coughing, headache and nasal congestion. A recent review of multiple clinical studies was just released on the role of zinc in common cold symptoms. The review concluded zinc, if given with the first 24 hours of onset, reduces the severity and duration of symptoms of a common cold. It showed school absences and antibiotic use was lower in the group which took zinc. An issue is we do not know what the optimal dose of zinc is.

Echinacea has been used as a medication for thousands of years and is still widely popular to use for treatment of the common cold. However, recent studies have shown it is not highly effective in reducing symptoms or the duration of symptoms which accompany the common cold. Some data suggests echinacea may work by assisting the immune system in preventing a common cold. With this is mind, try echinacea when symptoms first develop or even before they occur.

Vitamin C has been studied for the treatment in colds for over 60 years. Its effectiveness in the general population does not have a great amount of evidence. However studies with athletes and soldiers have turned out positive results in decreasing symptoms. This information gives us reason to believe Vitamin C can help in physically stressed individuals. Humans do not self-produce vitamin C and it is not stored in the body for extended periods of time, so it should be obtained regularly in a well balanced diet or supplemented in the pill form.

Cold FX is a very popular product and if it works for Don Cherry, it must work for everyone! From listening to customers co-workers who have tried the product there seems to be mixed reviews about its effectiveness. The main ingredient in COLD FX is panax or North American ginseng root. The company boasts the product helps activate the immune system. A study involving seniors over the age of 65 showed respiratory infections were reduced by about 1/3. Most health professionals are a little skeptical of these very successful results.

In my professional opinion there is likely some effectiveness using the treatments I have discussed. To say these products cure the common cold in all individuals would be incorrect. They do seem to help battle the common cold if used at first symptoms. However, they should not be used in severe illness or if they interact with other medications. If you have a respiratory infection, they should not be used in place of antibiotics. Just because the product is said to be natural does not automatically mean it is safe for you. It may also not be safe for your children depending on their age. If you are looking to select a natural cold remedy speak to one of your Dauphin Clinic Pharmacists to make sure they are safe for you.

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The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.


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