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Alternative “Medicines” to Fight a Cold

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I am still fighting (that is really a descriptive term) my latest cold and the office is engulfed in a cold virus epidemic. Children of every age have runny noses, are blowing noses, and there’s a cacophony of coughs.  So I thought I would finish discussing more alternatives for preventing the common cold and possible treatments.

A mother told me today about something called “boogie wipes” which are supposed to be far superior to a Kleenex.   Now you know that I am frugal but I do buy “fancy tissues with aloe vera etc. According to this Mom you can’t beat these new “boogie wipes” for keeping your nose clean as well as not chapped.  Best hint of the day!!

Recently, I discussed the use of vitamins and minerals and their use to combat the common cold, but now want to look at some other interesting options.  Some herbs have been studied as well.  A. paniculata (king of berries) is a popular herb that is used to treat fever, sore throat and respiratory infections.

In two different studies in children, one studying Russian children and another Chilean students, both found that those receiving this herb had a shorter duration of symptoms of their colds.  The Chilean study also showed that those who took A. paniculata had a 70% reduction in the number of upper respiratory infections than those given placebo. I found this very interesting!  I think I am going to head to store tomorrow to buy this herb which I had never heard of!  It certainly can’t hurt and I can just add it to all of the other stuff I am taking.

What about probiotics (dietary supplements containing potentially beneficial bacteria or yeast)? Probiotics are being used in formulas and foods, to help prevent gastrointestinal issues as well as in the treatment of post viral gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhea).  How about to prevent or treat the common cold?

A Finnish showed no difference in the symptoms of respiratory infection among those using probiotics as compared to placebo. Another study out of Israel also showed that those who consumed probitoics had no effect on the duration or frequency of respiratory illnesses.

Honey has received a lot notoriety lately and is thought to have anti-inflammatory effects in general. Several years ago, a study with parent support reported honey was better for a nighttime cough than cough syrup containing dextromethorphan.  Buckwheat honey is considered safe for use to control cough in children who are over 1 year of age.

The most interesting report I found was out of Australia.  This study  which looked at the effectiveness of mind-body therapies in combating cold symptoms. Children received stress management to deal with generalized anxiety and to promote positive self-esteem.

Another group received guided imagery and relaxation therapy. The children who received either of these therapies had a shorter duration of upper respiratory symptoms than the control groups.  Many studies have looked at white cell function during times of stress and also

So it looks to me like the use of elderberry and stress reduction may hold some value in combating common colds. I know there is much more data to come, but in the meantime it looks like another herb and a nap may help more than my current vitamin/herbal regimen. It certainly can’t hurt. I am also going to get my FLU SHOT tomorrow in hopes of keeping that virus at bay all winter long!

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

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2 Responses to “Alternative “Medicines” to Fight a Cold”

  1. Jennifer says:

    Since my son was 2yo I have been using both probiotics & homeopathics for his colds and they work wonders. He is 5 now and often his colds only last a day or 2 and rarely turn into full virus’ or infections. My 2 favorite “medicines” for him are Alpha CF for kids and Hyland’s Cough & Cold for kids. They are different active ingredients, if one doesn’t seem to help, we skip a dose & then switch brands. They are amazing. He rarely misses school if I start these right away & he often is never as “icky” as other students in his class. We use those Boggie Wipes too! They are pricey, but well worth it! Also, the children’s nightlight/waterless vaporizer are a huge help for sleepy time during a cold!

  2. I always enjoy the opportunity to hear other ideas about working with viral illnesses. I think the long tradition of ‘grandma ideas’ have such importance, that I always pay close attention to what one of my patient’s grandmothers offered as a helpful suggestion. Ideas like the honey have lived many generations for a good reason, even if science has not explained fully that reason with a double-blind, placebo controlled study.

    I ordered a round of boogie wipes for the office at your suggestion. Can’t wait to see if they are a ‘keeper’ idea or a marketing thing that will pass.

    Lastly, I am always grateful for ideas offered by my colleague, writer-pediatricians for ways in which we help parents remember that ‘doing something’ for viral illnesses does not always mean TAKING something. As the next decade of medicine unfolds, I hope we will see more and more science that suggests getting well is better accomplished by things other than taking a medicine.

    We need to begin to allow ourselves as parents, to stay in bed, rest, drink plenty of fluids. If we live by example when WE are sick, trying hard not to share our germs and doing all those common sense things that we know make a difference, then our children will have an easier time when it’s their turn to do the same (and hopefully, later when they are parents themselves.)

    Healthiest regards,
    Gayle Schrier Smith, MD

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