Prepare to be sidelined by at least one cold this season. Consider the stats: The average adult suffers two to four colds a year. Got kids? Buy tissue in bulk. Children get more than twice that number. Recognizing a cold is easy-a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and sneezing are its defining features-but kicking one is not. Your best hope is a reduced sentence with one of these natural cold-busters.
Echinacea is still the number one herbal choice for cold sufferers. A new survey published in Alternative Therapies found that 41 percent of herb users rely on it. But the purple coneflower's reputation has wilted slightly. Most recently, researchers for the Cochrane Collaboration, a nonprofit health research group, pooled data from 16 echinacea studies-and reported that the herb "might be effective" for colds. But another meta-analysis published last year in Clinical Therapeutics found that when people who were exposed to a cold virus took echinacea, they lowered their likelihood of catching a cold by a whopping 55 percent.
Experts blame the flip-flop on everything from dosage variations to competing cold viruses to dubious science. One thing is clear, however: "Multiple studies show that echinacea reduces the length of a cold by at least a day," says Woodson Merrell, M.D., chairman of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. But in order to maximize the herb's potential, look for a combination formula-such as Esberitox, which includes thuja (white cedar) and baptisia (wild indigo), made by Enzymatic Therapy. "Echinacea is not as effective by itself," says Merrell.
How To Use It
If you like echinacea straight up, take 300 milligrams of powdered extract three times a day; if using a tincture, swallow 3 to 4 milliliters three times daily.
Americans are only now fawning over andrographis, which is already a blockbuster cold remedy in Europe. A recent review of seven studies with a total of 896 participants declared the herb effective for colds. In one trial, cold sufferers who took it reported significant relief from runny nose, sore throat, and sleeplessness compared with placebopopping peers. "There is reasonable preliminary evidence on andrographis," says Bruce Barrett, M.D., Ph.D., an expert in herbal remedies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "A lot of remedies that are used more widely are less proven to help colds."
How To Use It
Treat a cold with up to 400 mg of andrographis extract three times a day. For added oomph, look for andrographis paired with eleutherococcus, a Chinese herb believed to shore up the body's qi . Merrell likes the mixture because unlike some Chinese herbs, it's safe to take for the entire cold season. A formula called Kan Jang is the beststudied andrographis-eleutherococcus product for curtailing colds. Buy Kan Jang at health food stores or online at Willner Chemists (willner.com), a reputable herbal pharmacy in New York City and Atlanta, and follow the label's instructions.
Remedy: Vitamin C
"More than 40 studies with a total of 30,000 participants have been done on vitamin C," says Barrett. "It has more evidence than almost all other cold remedies combined." It may not prevent a cold, but some studies show it can reduce the severity and duration of symptoms by as as much as 22 percent by goosing the immune system. But you need to take it year-round.
How To Use It
Load up on fruits and veggies, and take a daily multivitamin with at least 200 mg of vitamin C. But don't start increasing your dosage at the first sign of cold symptoms. Most experts guess that the body can only absorb between 200 and 500 mg of it a day; the kidneys take care of the rest.
Zinc lozenges and sprays work by targeting cold viruses at the back of the throat and the nose. Avoid zinc nasal gels, which have been associated with a serious side effect: anosmia, loss of the sense of smell. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who sucked on a zinc lozenge every two to three hours recovered nearly twice as fast as those taking a placebo. "Zinc lozenges may shorten colds by a day, plus they taste good," says Merrell.
How To Use It
Take one lozenge (13 to 23 mg) every two hours. Skip brands with citric or tartaric acid, which block effectiveness. Limit use to two weeks: Zinc can deplete copper stores, lowering your immunity.