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Health Condition

Common Cold/Sore Throat

  • Andrographis

    Andrographis contains bitter constituents that are believed to have immune-stimulating and anti-inflammatory actions.

    Dose:

    A standardized extract providing 60 mg per day of active constituents in three divided doses
    Andrographis
    ×
    Andrographis contains andrographolides that have demonstrated immune-enhancing qualities in preliminary studies.1,2 At least one double-blind trial has shown that common cold symptoms improve3,4 and recovery is faster5 when a standardized extract providing 60 mg per day of active constituents is taken in three divided doses, beginning as soon as possible after symptoms appear. In addition, preliminary research in Russia suggests andrographis extract may be effective for the treatment of influenza.6 This extract was also tested for preventing colds in a double-blind study of teenagers.7 After three months, the group taking 5 mg of andrographolides twice daily had only half the number of colds experienced by the placebo group.

     

  • Vitamin C

    Studies have shown that taking vitamin C may make your cold shorter and less severe.

    Dose:

    1 to 4 grams daily
    Vitamin C
    ×
     

    A review of 21 controlled trials using 1 to 8 grams of vitamin C per day found that “in each of the twenty-one studies, vitamin C reduced the duration of episodes and the severity of the symptoms of the common cold by an average of 23%.”8 The optimum amount of vitamin C to take for cold treatment remains in debate but may be as high as 1 to 3 grams per day, considerably more than the 120 to 200 mg per day that has been suggested as optimal intake for healthy adults. A review of 23 controlled trials found that vitamin C supplementation produces a greater benefit for children than for adults.9 The same review found that a daily amount of 2 grams or more was superior to a daily amount of 1 gram at reducing the duration of cold symptoms.

  • Zinc Lozenges

    Zinc lozenges used at the first sign of a cold have been shown to help stop the virus and shorten the illness.

    Dose:

    Use 13 to 25 mg as gluconate, gluconate-glycine, or acetate in lozenges every two hours
    Zinc Lozenges
    ×

    Zinc interferes with viral replication in test tubes, may interfere with the ability of viruses to enter cells of the body, may help immune cells to fight a cold, and may relieve cold symptoms when taken as a supplement.10 In double-blind trials, zinc lozenges have reduced the duration of colds in adults but have been ineffective in children.11,12,13,14 Lozenges containing zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, and, in most trials, zinc acetate15,16 have been effective; most other forms of zinc and lozenges flavored with citric acid,17 tartaric acid, sorbitol, or mannitol have been ineffective.18 Trials using these other forms of zinc have failed, as have trials that use insufficient amounts of zinc.19 For the alleviation of cold symptoms, lozenges providing 13 to 25 mg of zinc (as zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, or zinc acetate) are used every two hours while awake but only for several days. The best effect is obtained when lozenges are used at the first sign of a cold.

    An analysis of the major zinc trials has claimed that evidence for efficacy is “still lacking.”20 However, despite a lack of statistical significance, this compilation of data from six double-blind trials found that people assigned to zinc had a 50% decreased risk of still having symptoms after one week compared with those given placebo. Some trials included in this analysis used formulations containing substances that may inactivate zinc salts. Other reasons for failure to show statistical significance, according to a recent analysis of these studies,10 may have been small sample size (not enough people) or not enough zinc given. Thus, there are plausible reasons why the authors were unable to show statistical significance, even though positive effects are well supported in most trials using gluconate, gluconate-glycine, or acetate forms of zinc.

  • American Ginseng

    In a double-blind study, supplementing with American ginseng significantly reduced the number of colds that people experienced over a four-month period.

    Dose:

    400 mg per day of a freeze-dried extract
    American Ginseng
    ×
     

    In a double-blind study, supplementation with American ginseng significantly reduced by 27% the number of colds that people experienced over a four-month period, compared with a placebo.21 The amount used in this study was 400 mg per day of a freeze-dried extract.

  • Elderberry

    Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and may benefit some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Elderberry
    ×

    Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and thus may be useful for some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold.22,23 In a double-blind trial, administration of an elderberry extract decreased the number of days with cold symptoms by 52% and decreased average symptom severity by 58%, compared with a placebo, in people travelling on intercontinental flights. The amount used was 600 to 900 mg per day of an extract standardized to contain 22% polyphenols and 15% anthocyanins. Treatment was begun ten days prior to the flight and was continued for four to five days after arrival at the destination.24

  • Garlic

    In one study, taking garlic during the winter months reduced the occurrence and duration of colds.

    Dose:

    Follow label instructions to take a product containing stabilized allicin
    Garlic
    ×

    In a double-blind trial, participants took one capsule per day of a placebo or a garlic supplement that contained stabilized allicin (the amount of garlic per capsule was not specified) for 12 weeks between November and February. During that time, the garlic group had 63% fewer colds and 70% fewer days ill than did the placebo group.25 In another double-blind study of healthy volunteers, supplementing with 2.6 grams per day of an aged-garlic extract for 90 days decreased by 58% the number of days on which severe cold or influenza symptoms occurred.26

  • Geranium

    Geranium is an herbal remedy used in Germany, Mexico, Russia, and other countries in the treatment of respiratory tract and ear, nose, and throat infections.

    Dose:

    Take a product containing stabilized allicin and follow label instructions
    Geranium
    ×
     

    Geranium (Pelargonium sidoides) is an herbal remedy used in Germany, Mexico, Russia, and other countries for the treatment of respiratory tract and ear, nose, and throat infections. In a double-blind study of children with acute tonsillitis/pharyngitis that was not due to a Streptococcal infection, participants given an extract of geranium had significantly more rapid resolution of symptoms, compared with those given a placebo.27 The amount of the geranium extract used in this study was 20 drops three times per day for six days.

  • Probiotics

    Daily supplementation with a probiotic may decrease the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections in children.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Probiotics
    ×
    In a double-blind trial, daily supplementation with Lactobacillus GG (a probiotic organism) for 3 months decreased the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections by 34% in children attending daycare centers.28 Another double-blind trial found that a probiotic preparation taken for 3 months during the winter decreased the incidence of common infectious diseases in children aged 3-7 years.29 The product used in that study contained Lactobacillus helveticus R0052, Bifidobacterium infantis R0033, Bifidobacterium bifidum R0071, and fructo-oligosaccharides. Supplementation of children with a probiotic preparation daily for 2 weeks at the first sign of illness of a household member was shown in another double-blind trial to decrease the duration and severity of subsequent acute respiratory infections in members of the same household. The product used in that study contained Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1 (NCIMB 30333) and Bifidobacterium lactis UABLA-12.30
  • Throat Coat Tea (Marshmallow Root, Licorice Root, and Elm Bark)

    In one study, Throat Coat tea was effective in providing rapid, temporary relief of sore throat pain in people with acute pharyngitis.

    Dose:

    5 to 8 ounces of tea, four to six times per day, for two to seven days
    Throat Coat Tea (Marshmallow Root, Licorice Root, and Elm Bark)
    ×
     

    In a double-blind study, a proprietary product containing marshmallow root, licorice root, and elm bark (Throat Coat) was effective in providing rapid, temporary relief of sore throat pain in people with acute pharyngitis.31 Throat Coat was taken as a tea in the amount of 5 to 8 ounces, 4 to 6 times per day, for two to seven days.

  • Vitamin D

    Research suggests that supplementing with vitamin D may prevent upper respiratory tract infections in people who are deficient in the vitamin, but not in those who have normal vitamin D status.

    Dose:

    300 IU per day for three months in winter
    Vitamin D
    ×
    In a double-blind trial, supplementation with 300 IU per day of vitamin D for three months during the winter decreased the frequency of upper respiratory tract infections in Mongolian children with vitamin D deficiency.32 Vitamin D supplementation also decreased the incidence of colds in several other studies, but was ineffective in other research.333435363733 In one of the negative studies, vitamin D supplementation significantly increased the incidence of colds among African Americans, but not in the entire study population. While it is not certain why the results differed in the different studies, vitamin D seems to be most effective in children, in adults with frequent respiratory infections, and possibly in people with low baseline vitamin D status.
  • Zinc Oral

    In one study, oral zinc supplementation significantly reduced both the incidence and duration of the common cold.

    Dose:

    For prevention: 15 mg daily; for treating colds: 30 mg daily at the onset
    Zinc Oral
    ×
    Zinc interferes with viral replication in test tubes, may interfere with the ability of viruses to enter cells of the body, may help immune cells to fight a cold, and may relieve cold symptoms when taken as a supplement.38 In double-blind trials, zinc lozenges have reduced the duration of colds in adults but have been ineffective in children.39,40,41,42 Lozenges containing zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, and, in most trials, zinc acetate43,44 have been effective; most other forms of zinc and lozenges flavored with citric acid,45 tartaric acid, sorbitol, or mannitol have been ineffective.46 Trials using these other forms of zinc have failed, as have trials that use insufficient amounts of zinc.47 For the alleviation of cold symptoms, lozenges providing 13 to 25 mg of zinc (as zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, or zinc acetate) are used every two hours while awake but only for several days. The best effect is obtained when lozenges are used at the first sign of a cold.

    An analysis of the major zinc trials has claimed that evidence for efficacy is “still lacking.”48 However, despite a lack of statistical significance, this compilation of data from six double-blind trials found that people assigned to zinc had a 50% decreased risk of still having symptoms after one week compared with those given placebo. Some trials included in this analysis used formulations containing substances that may inactivate zinc salts. Other reasons for failure to show statistical significance, according to a recent analysis of these studies,38 may have been small sample size (not enough people) or not enough zinc given. Thus, there are plausible reasons why the authors were unable to show statistical significance, even though positive effects are well supported in most trials using gluconate, gluconate-glycine, or acetate forms of zinc.

    In a double-blind study of children in Turkey, oral zinc supplementation significantly reduced both the incidence (by 29%) and the duration (by 11%) of the common cold. The amount of zinc used in this seven-month study was 15 mg per day for children with an average age of 5.6 years. The amount of supplemental zinc was doubled at the onset of a cold, and this higher amount was continued until symptoms resolved.50

  • Asian Ginseng

    Adaptogens such as Asian ginseng are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Asian Ginseng
    ×
     

    Herbal supplements can help strengthen the immune system and fight infections. Adaptogens, which include eleuthero, Asian ginseng, astragalus, and schisandra, are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally. They have not been systematically evaluated as cold remedies. However, one double-blind trial found that people who were given 100 mg of Asian ginseng extract in combination with a flu vaccine experienced a lower frequency of colds and flu compared with people who received only the flu vaccine.50

  • Astragalus

    Adaptogens such as astragalus are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Astragalus
    ×
     

    Herbal supplements can help strengthen the immune system and fight infections. Adaptogens, which include eleuthero, Asian ginseng, astragalus, and schisandra, are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally. They have not been systematically evaluated as cold remedies. However, one double-blind trial found that people who were given 100 mg of Asian ginseng extract in combination with a flu vaccine experienced a lower frequency of colds and flu compared with people who received only the flu vaccine.51

  • Blackberry

    Blackberry leaves contain astringent tannins that are helpful for soothing sore throats.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Blackberry
    ×
     

    Red raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry leaves contain astringent tannins that are helpful for soothing sore throats.52Sage tea may be gargled to soothe a sore throat. All of these remedies are used traditionally, but they are currently not supported by modern research.

  • Blueberry

    Blueberry leaves contain astringent tannins that are helpful for soothing sore throats.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Blueberry
    ×
     

    Red raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry leaves contain astringent tannins that are helpful for soothing sore throats.53Sage tea may be gargled to soothe a sore throat. All of these remedies are used traditionally, but they are currently not supported by modern research.

  • Boneset

    Boneset is an immune stimulant and diaphoretic that helps fight off minor viral infections, such as the common cold.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Boneset
    ×
     

    Boneset is an immune stimulant and diaphoretic that helps fight off minor viral infections, such as the common cold. Several double-blind trials have found that echinacea root tinctures in combination with boneset, wild indigo, and homeopathic arnica reduce symptoms of the common cold.54 In addition, linden and hyssop may promote a healthy fever and the immune system’s ability to fight infections. Yarrow is another diaphoretic that has been used for relief of sore throats, though it has not yet been researched for this purpose.

  • Chinese Artichoke

    Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners use Chinese artichoke for colds and flu.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Chinese Artichoke
    ×
     

    Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners use Chinese artichoke (Stachys sieboldii), a species similar to wood betony (Stachys betonica), for colds and flu.55 It is unknown whether wood betony would be useful for people with the common cold.

  • Eleuthero

    Adaptogens such as eleuthero are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Eleuthero
    ×
    Eleuthero contains eleutherosides that appear to have immune-enhancing effects according to preliminary studies.56,57 Human research, some of it double-blind,58,59 has shown benefits for treating the common cold using Kan Jang, a combination of andrographis extract (48 to 60 mg andrographolides per day) and an eleuthero extract containing 2.0 to 2.4 mg per day of eleutherosides.
  • Eucalyptus Oil

    Eucalyptus oil is often used in a steam inhalation to help clear nasal and sinus congestion.

    Dose:

    Eucalyptus oil
    Eucalyptus Oil
    ×
     

    Eucalyptus oil is often used in a steam inhalation to help clear nasal and sinus congestion. It is said to work similarly to menthol, by acting on receptors in the nasal mucous membranes, leading to a reduction of nasal stuffiness.60Peppermint may have a similar action and is a source of small amounts of menthol.

  • Goldenseal

    Goldenseal root has antimicrobial and mild immune-stimulating effects. It soothes irritated mucous membranes in the throat, making it potentially useful for sore throats.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Goldenseal
    ×
     

    Goldenseal root contains two alkaloids, berberine and canadine, with antimicrobial and mild immune-stimulating effects.61 However, due to the small amounts of alkaloids occurring in the root, it is unlikely these effects would occur outside the test tube. Goldenseal soothes irritated mucous membranes in the throat,62 making it potentially useful for those experiencing a sore throat with their cold. Human research on the effectiveness of goldenseal or other berberine-containing herbs, such as Oregon grape, barberry, or goldthread (Coptis chinensis), for people with colds has not been conducted.

    Goldenseal root should only be used for short periods of time. Goldenseal root extract, in capsule or tablet form, is typically taken in amounts of 4 to 6 grams three times per day. Using goldenseal powder as a tea or tincture may soothe a sore throat. Because goldenseal is threatened in the wild due to over-harvesting, substitutes such as Oregon grape should be used whenever possible.

    Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and thus may be useful for some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional diaphoretic remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold. Horseradish has antibiotic properties, which may account for its usefulness in easing throat and upper respiratory tract infections. The resin of the herb myrrh has been shown to kill various microbes and to stimulate macrophages (a type of white blood cell). Usnea has a traditional reputation as an antiseptic and is sometimes used for people with common colds.

  • Goldthread

    Goldthread contains berberine, an alkaloid with antimicrobial and mild immune-stimulating effects.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Goldthread
    ×
     

    Goldenseal root contains two alkaloids, berberine and canadine, with antimicrobial and mild immune-stimulating effects.63 However, due to the small amounts of alkaloids occurring in the root, it is unlikely these effects would occur outside the test tube. Goldenseal soothes irritated mucous membranes in the throat,64 making it potentially useful for those experiencing a sore throat with their cold. Human research on the effectiveness of goldenseal or other berberine-containing herbs, such as Oregon grape, barberry, or goldthread (Coptis chinensis), for people with colds has not been conducted.

    Goldenseal root should only be used for short periods of time. Goldenseal root extract, in capsule or tablet form, is typically taken in amounts of 4 to 6 grams three times per day. Using goldenseal powder as a tea or tincture may soothe a sore throat. Because goldenseal is threatened in the wild due to over-harvesting, substitutes such as Oregon grape should be used whenever possible.

    Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and thus may be useful for some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional diaphoretic remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold. Horseradish has antibiotic properties, which may account for its usefulness in easing throat and upper respiratory tract infections. The resin of the herb myrrh has been shown to kill various microbes and to stimulate macrophages (a type of white blood cell). Usnea has a traditional reputation as an antiseptic and is sometimes used for people with common colds.

  • Horseradish

    Horseradish has antibiotic properties, which may account for its usefulness in easing throat and upper respiratory tract infections.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Horseradish
    ×
     

    Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and thus may be useful for some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional diaphoretic remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold. Horseradish has antibiotic properties, which may account for its usefulness in easing throat and upper respiratory tract infections. The resin of the herb myrrh has been shown to kill various microbes and to stimulate macrophages (a type of white blood cell). Usnea has a traditional reputation as an antiseptic and is sometimes used for people with common colds.

  • Hyssop

    Hyssop may promote a healthy fever and the immune system’s ability to fight infections.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Hyssop
    ×
     

    Boneset is another immune stimulant and diaphoretic that helps fight off minor viral infections, such as the common cold. In addition, linden and hyssop may promote a healthy fever and the immune system’s ability to fight infections. Yarrow is another diaphoretic that has been used for relief of sore throats, though it has not yet been researched for this purpose.

  • Linden

    Linden may promote a healthy fever and the immune system’s ability to fight infections.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Linden
    ×
     

    Boneset is another immune stimulant and diaphoretic that helps fight off minor viral infections, such as the common cold. In addition, linden and hyssop may promote a healthy fever and the immune system’s ability to fight infections. Yarrow is another diaphoretic that has been used for relief of sore throats, though it has not yet been researched for this purpose.

  • Mallow

    Herbs high in mucilage, such as malvia, are often helpful for relief of coughs and irritated throats.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Mallow
    ×

    Herbs high in mucilage, such as slippery elm, mallow (Malvia sylvestris), and marshmallow, are often helpful for symptomatic relief of coughs and irritated throats. Mullein has expectorant and demulcent properties, which accounts for this herb’s historical use as a remedy for the respiratory tract, particularly in cases of irritating coughs with bronchial congestion. Coltsfoot is another herb with high mucilage content that has been used historically to soothe sore throats. However, it is high in pyrrolizidine alkaloids—constituents that may damage the liver over time. It is best to either avoid coltsfoot or look for products that are free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

  • Marshmallow

    Herbs high in mucilage, such as marshmallow, are often helpful for relief of coughs and irritated throats.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Marshmallow
    ×
     

    Herbs high in mucilage, such as slippery elm, mallow (Malvia sylvestris), and marshmallow, are often helpful for symptomatic relief of coughs and irritated throats. Mullein has expectorant and demulcent properties, which accounts for this herb’s historical use as a remedy for the respiratory tract, particularly in cases of irritating coughs with bronchial congestion. Coltsfoot is another herb with high mucilage content that has been used historically to soothe sore throats. However, it is high in pyrrolizidine alkaloids—constituents that may damage the liver over time. It is best to either avoid coltsfoot or look for products that are free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

  • Meadowsweet

    Meadowsweet is reputed to break fevers and to promote sweating during a cold or flu. It also has a mild anti-inflammatory effect and a pain-relieving effect.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Meadowsweet
    ×
     

    Meadowsweet has been used historically for a wide variety of conditions. It is reputed to break fevers and to promote sweating during a cold or flu. Meadowsweet contains salicylates, which possibly give the herb an aspirin-like effect, particularly in relieving aches and pains during a common cold. While not as potent as willow, which has a higher salicin content, the salicylates in meadowsweet do give it a mild anti-inflammatory effect and the potential to reduce fevers during a cold or flu. However, this role is based on historical use and knowledge of the chemistry of meadowsweet’s constituents; to date, no human studies have been completed with meadowsweet.

  • Molmol

    The resin of the herb myrrh has been shown to kill various microbes and to stimulate macrophages (a type of white blood cell).

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Molmol
    ×

    Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and thus may be useful for some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional diaphoretic remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold. Horseradish has antibiotic properties, which may account for its usefulness in easing throat and upper respiratory tract infections. The resin of the herb myrrh has been shown to kill various microbes and to stimulate macrophages (a type of white blood cell).65 Usnea has a traditional reputation as an antiseptic and is sometimes used for people with common colds.66

  • Mullein

    Mullein has soothing and mucus-expelling properties, which accounts for its historical use as a remedy for irritating coughs with bronchial congestion.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Mullein
    ×
      

    Herbs high in mucilage, such as slippery elm, mallow (Malvia sylvestris), and marshmallow, are often helpful for symptomatic relief of coughs and irritated throats. Mullein has expectorant and demulcent properties, which accounts for this herb’s historical use as a remedy for the respiratory tract, particularly in cases of irritating coughs with bronchial congestion. Coltsfoot is another herb with high mucilage content that has been used historically to soothe sore throats. However, it is high in pyrrolizidine alkaloids—constituents that may damage the liver over time. It is best to either avoid coltsfoot or look for products that are free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

  • Peppermint

    Peppermint, a source of small amounts of menthol, is believed to work by acting on receptors in the nasal mucous membranes, leading to a reduction of nasal stuffiness.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Peppermint
    ×
     

    Eucalyptus oil is often used in a steam inhalation to help clear nasal and sinus congestion. It is said to work similarly to menthol, by acting on receptors in the nasal mucous membranes, leading to a reduction of nasal stuffiness.67Peppermint may have a similar action and is a source of small amounts of menthol.

  • Red Raspberry

    Red raspberry leaves contain astringent tannins that are helpful for soothing sore throats.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Red Raspberry
    ×
     

    Red raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry leaves contain astringent tannins that are helpful for soothing sore throats.68Sage tea may be gargled to soothe a sore throat. All of these remedies are used traditionally, but they are currently not supported by modern research.

  • Sage

    Sage tea may be gargled to soothe a sore throat.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Sage
    ×
     

    Red raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry leaves contain astringent tannins that are helpful for soothing sore throats.69Sage tea may be gargled to soothe a sore throat. All of these remedies are used traditionally, but they are currently not supported by modern research.

  • Schisandra

    Adaptogens such as schisandra are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Schisandra
    ×

    Herbal supplements can help strengthen the immune system and fight infections. Adaptogens, which include eleuthero, Asian ginseng, astragalus, and schisandra, are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally. They have not been systematically evaluated as cold remedies. However, one double-blind trial found that people who were given 100 mg of Asian ginseng extract in combination with a flu vaccine experienced a lower frequency of colds and flu compared with people who received only the flu vaccine.70

  • Sea Buckthorn

    Sea buckthorn has been shown in animal studies to have immune system-enhancing and anti-inflammatory properties, though a clinical trial did not find benefit.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Sea Buckthorn
    ×
    Sea buckthorn has been shown in animal studies to have immune system-enhancing and anti-inflammatory properties that might help prevent or relieve the common cold.71 However, in a double-blind trial,72 healthy people who consumed 28 grams per day of pureed sea buckthorn berries for three months had the same number and duration of common cold episodes as a group consuming a placebo puree. Sea buckthorn does not appear to be effective for preventing or relieving the common cold.
  • Slippery Elm

    Herbs high in mucilage, such as slippery elm, are often helpful for relief of coughs and irritated throats.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Slippery Elm
    ×
     

    Herbs high in mucilage, such as slippery elm, mallow (Malvia sylvestris), and marshmallow, are often helpful for symptomatic relief of coughs and irritated throats. Mullein has expectorant and demulcent properties, which accounts for this herb’s historical use as a remedy for the respiratory tract, particularly in cases of irritating coughs with bronchial congestion. Coltsfoot is another herb with high mucilage content that has been used historically to soothe sore throats. However, it is high in pyrrolizidine alkaloids—constituents that may damage the liver over time. It is best to either avoid coltsfoot or look for products that are free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

  • Usnea

    Usnea has a traditional reputation as an antiseptic and is sometimes used for people with common colds.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Usnea
    ×

    Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and thus may be useful for some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional diaphoretic remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold. Horseradish has antibiotic properties, which may account for its usefulness in easing throat and upper respiratory tract infections. The resin of the herb myrrh has been shown to kill various microbes and to stimulate macrophages (a type of white blood cell).73 Usnea has a traditional reputation as an antiseptic and is sometimes used for people with common colds.74

  • Wild Indigo

    Wild indigo appears to stimulate immune function and is considered a strong antimicrobial agent. In tinctures with echinacea, boneset, white cedar, and homeopathic arnica, it also has prevented and reduced colds.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Wild Indigo
    ×
     

    According to test tube experiments,75 wild indigo stimulates immune function, which might account for its role in fighting the common cold and flu. In combination with echinacea, boneset, and homeopathic arnica, wild indigo has prevented and reduced symptoms of the common cold in double-blind research. Wild indigo is traditionally considered a strong antimicrobial agent, though it has not yet been investigated as an agent against cold viruses.

  • Wood Betony

    Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners use Chinese artichoke, a species similar to wood betony, for colds and flu.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Wood Betony
    ×
      

    Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners use Chinese artichoke (Stachys sieboldii), a species similar to wood betony (Stachys betonica), for colds and flu.76 It is unknown whether wood betony would be useful for people with the common cold.

  • Yarrow

    Yarrow is a diaphoretic herb that has been used for relief of sore throats.

    Dose:

    Refer to label instructions
    Yarrow
    ×
     

    Boneset is another immune stimulant and diaphoretic that helps fight off minor viral infections, such as the common cold. In addition, linden and hyssop may promote a healthy fever and the immune system’s ability to fight infections. Yarrow is another diaphoretic that has been used for relief of sore throats, though it has not yet been researched for this purpose.

  • Zinc Nasal Spray

    Zinc nasal sprays appear to be effective at shortening the duration of cold symptoms, however, some people have experienced long-lasting or permanent loss of smell after using the spray.

    Dose:

    Not recommended due to a potenially serious side effect

    Zinc Nasal Spray
    ×

    Caution: Using zinc nasal spray has been reported to cause severe or complete loss of smell function. In some of those cases, the loss of smell was long-lasting or permanent.77

    Zinc interferes with viral replication in test tubes.78 The beneficial effect of zinc nasal sprays should be weighed against the potentially serious side effect of loss of smell. Since zinc supplements are also effective and do not carry such a risk, it is more advisable to take zinc orally. 

    A double-blind trial showed a 74% reduction in symptom duration in people using a zinc nasal spray four times daily, compared with the 42 to 53% reduction reported in trials using zinc gluconate or zinc acetate lozenges.79 The average duration of symptoms after the beginning of treatment was 2.3 days in the people receiving zinc, compared with 9.0 days in those receiving placebo. However, in another double-blind study, zinc nasal spray was no more effective than a placebo; in both groups the median duration of symptoms was seven days.80

What Are Star Ratings
×
Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.

References

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40. Al-Nakib W, Higgins PG, Barrow I, et al. Prophylaxis and treatment of rhinovirus colds with zinc gluconate lozenges. J Antimicrobial Chemotherapy 1987;20:893-901.

41. Prasad AS, Beck FWJ, Bao B, Snell D, Fitzgerald JT. Duration and severity of symptoms and levels of plasma interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, soluble tumor necrosis factor receptor, and adhesion molecules in patients with common cold treated with zinc acetate. J Infect Dis 2008;197:795-802.

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43. Petrus EJ, Lawson KA, Bucci LR, Blum K. Randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled clinical study of the effectiveness of zinc acetate lozenges on common cold symptoms in allergy-tested subjects. Curr Ther Res 1998;59:595-607.

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47. Weismann K, Jakobsen JP, Weismann JE, et al. Zinc gluconate lozenges for common cold. A double-blind clinical trial. Dan Med Bull 1990;37:279-81.

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The information presented by TraceGains is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2020.