Feature Archive

Supplementing Your Cold Defenses

If you've got a cold, what should you take? Purveyors of alternative medicine offer a dazzling array of choices.

By Lynda Liu
WebMD Feature

If you've got a cold, what should you take? Purveyors of alternative medicine offer a dazzling array of choices; only a few have science behind them. In this, the second of a three-part series on alternative medicine for colds, we'll look at supplements.

Take your runny nose to the vitamin display of any drug store and you?ll find preparations promising to ease. But science is scarce in the supplement industry, and it?s not easy to know what to try and what to sneeze at.

Two things are for certain. One, we'd all like a quick fix for this condition. And two, there isn't one. Most adults experience two to four colds each year, and most children get six to ten, according to the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). There's no cure for the cold, and although over-the-counter drugs may bring relief, it's usually at the cost of side effects like drowsiness.

Which is why so many people scour the shelves for a supplement that will help fight a cold, or help keep it away in the first place. Here's a rundown of the supplements we've found that have the most evidence in their favor.

Thinking Zinc and Seeking C

Zinc lozenges: In test tubes, zinc prevents cold viruses from reproducing themselves. But as for its ability to fight the disease in the human body, the jury is still out, even after 11 double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. Five studies found that zinc had beneficial effects and six did not.