Tired of colds? Colds are the most common ailment humans endure, with most adults suffering through 2-4 colds a year (kids on average upwards of 6 a year).
It is estimated that some $25 billion is lost annually due to lost productivity from people missing work. About $6 billion is spent on drug or supplement remedies. In simple terms – the common cold, although rairley life threatening, is no joke.
Worst of all, there is no known cure (although research is starting to pick back up – see here). The problem, and what makes curing the common cold so difficult, is the vast number of virus strains, AND its ability to morph and adapt into additional new strains.
Good news however, is there do exist studied and promising treatments of vitamins or supplements that have been shown clinically to treat and or reduce the duration of the common cold.
Common Cold FAQ’s
Q: Are colds viral or bacterial?
A: Colds are caused by viral infections, most commonly the coronavirus or rhinovirus.
Q: Do antibiotics help with colds?
A: The simple answer – No. Antibiotics will not help treat viral infections, however, bacteria sometimes gets trapped in the mucus created from a cold, and in turn causes bacterial infections. At this stage, antibiotics can help, however, they should only be taken when confirmed bacterial infection is noted by a physician. In normal circumstances, colds that last 2 weeks or more are often colds that have morphed into bacterial infections.
Q: Can supplements cure the common cold?
A: Not from the research we have found. However, there are a number of vitamins and supplements that are effective in preventing or shortening the duration of a cold and reducing or limiting the nasty symptoms. Keep reading to learn more!
Best Herbal Supplements for Treating a Cold
The following list contains the best herbal supplements for treating the common cold, in order of most powerful based on available scientific research.
Garlic for colds, one of the most popular search term in our category. Why are people so interested in garlic?.. Because it works. In our research we found of over 600 distinct studies on the health benefits of supplementing with garlic. Garlic is a wonder herb, not just for cold treatment and prevention, but also for general health and as a potent anti-inflammatory supplement.
One study, showed supplementing with garlic at 180 mg over twelve weeks resulted in accelerated cold recovery (1.5 days faster than placebo group who averaged 5.2 days).
Another study showed that supplementing with 2.5 g of aged garlic for 90 days showed a reduced likely of getting sick to a significantly statistical level, and furthermore, a reduction of symptoms. Garlic works by releasing a chemical called allicin when chewed or crushed (or in pre crushed supplement form). Allicin boosts response of white blood cells which in turn work to fight off the viral infection.
Worried about bad breath? Try an aged garlic supplement. Aged garlic is soaked in ethanol for multiple years, retaining the same medicinal qualities, but eliminating its pungent smell.
Echinacea is an herbal supplement that has been traditionally used to reduce the duration of the common cold (check out this study here where 80 subjects involved in a double-blind study were shown to have reduced duration of the common cold when compared to placebo group). Echinacea is believed to work by producing more macrophage (cells found in white blood cells, especially with infections).
In an overview analysis, taking the data of 14 studies, the data showed that Echinacea was able to decrease the chance of developing the common cold by 58% and reduce the average duration of the cold by 1.4 days.
Studies seem to be inconsistent, possibly due to variations in grown Echinacea quality. Some studies show phenomenal results, surpassing all other herbal remedies, and other studies show no impact at all. Echinacea may be the most promising supplement to treat the common cold, but until a standardized option is available, results will most likely very.
I wouldn’t let that sway you against it. Echinacea has some of the best amazon reviews in the supplement category. There are literally thousands of raving reviews. Sometimes, aggregating real reviews over thousands of people is even better than small clinical studies with just a handful of people.
Elderberry has been used as traditional medicine for thousands of years. It works by reducing swelling/inflammation in mucus membranes – easing the symptoms of the common cold.
A study conducted on 312 air travelers, half were given an elderberry supplement and the other half a placebo. The placebo group had a higher number of travelers come down with a cold (17 vs 12), though not a statistically significant level (p = .4). However, the elderberry group had a statistically (p = .05) lower symptom score than the placebo group, and experienced a significant reduction in duration of the cold. See graph.
American Ginseng has shown a propensity for reducing the frequency of colds within a person, and promising antiviral properties.
A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that subjects who took 200 mg daily American Ginseng supplements had statistically fewer (p= 0.017) colds than those taking a rice-powder placebo. Over 4 months, the American Ginseng group experienced .68 colds per person on average, while the placebo group had .93 colds per person.
The study went on to also record symptom severity and total time with cold, for those who caught one. Subjects supplementing with American Ginseng were found to have fewer total days sick with the supplementing group reporting 8.7 days total and placebo group 11.1. Full study details here.
Although promising, there are not as many studies for American Ginseng in relation to colds as we would like to see (most studies revolve around blood flow and cognition). However, don’t let that discourage you!
Andrographis is a supplement herb that has been used for hundreds of years in traditional Chinese medicine. It is often paired with Siberian ginseng, however, there are studies of it being used by itself. Most people start taking andrographis once symptoms of a cold start popping up.
One study in particular (found here on PubMed), showed 1200 mg a day of Andrographis Paniculata SHA-10 had noticeable impact on 4 key cold symptoms (sleeplessness, tiredness, sore throat, and nasal secretion). By day 4, all 4-symptom metrics had significantly decreased when compared to the placebo. Overall intensity of the cold was dramatically reduced, showing andrographis efficacy as a supplement for cold treatment.
This one is a bit different than the rest. Lactobacillus is a probiotic. Evidence is popping up showing the key to increased cold and respiratory infection resistance may lie in the gut and microbiome, an area of increased scientific interest over the last few years. When bad bacteria outnumber the “good” bacteria in the intestinal tract, it opens up the body for increased infection and sickness (essentially weakening the immune system).
A study conducted in 2011 on 272 randomly selected subjects (135 supplemented, 137 placebo control) over 12 weeks. The results showed the likely hood of acquiring a cold dropped from 67% (control group) to 55% for subjects supplementing with lactobacilli probiotics. Additionally, the average duration of the cold was reduced from 8.6 days to 6.6 days and the severity of the symptoms was also significantly reduced.
Pairing probiotics with key vitamins and minerals were shown to have synergistic effects, increasing the resistance to colds more so than when taking supplements separately. Read the vitamins and minerals section below.
Preventing colds or not, more and more evidence is pouring in, taking care of your gut is critical to your health and well being. Read our article here on best probiotics.
The thymus gland is located in your upper chest region, above your heart, and is an important gland for upper respiratory immune health. Unfortunately, as we age, the thymus gland becomes less and less active. Supplementing with synthetic thymus extract is believed to boost immune system responses, especially against upper respiratory infections like the cold and flu.
There are branded versions of Thymus extract, such as Thymomodulin that have been shown clinically to be effective in reducing the chances of upper respiratory infection and reducing the symptoms of allergies.
The Best Vitamins and Minerals for Treating and Preventing Colds
The following list are the best vitamins and minerals for the common cold.
Vitamin C – The Great Cold Supplement Myth
Vitamin C is perhaps the most recognizable and commonly consumed vitamin supplement in the world, and is a staple in any health conscious consumer’s arsenal.
Supplementing with vitamin C provides a boost to the immune system and may help prevent one from catching a cold – although available studies to date are inconsistent and inconclusive. Studies that showed positive results for Vitamin C supplementation and cold prevention were for high level athletes. For the average person, there usually isn’t any improvement.
Vitamin C is cheap and very safe, even at high dosages – so if you are an athlete or work out in areas with lots of people (a popular gym), supplementing with Vitamin C may be a good idea.
NOTE – Although not overly effective at cold PREVENTION, Vitamin C has been found to effectively reduce the duration of a cold – but only by about 11%. Nothing special here, yet over $300 million dollars of Vitamin C is sold yearly in the U.S. alone. Oh the uninformed consumer… good thing you’re not one of them!
Vitamin C has been soaking up all the cold attention (for superficial reasons based on unfounded claims by a popular 70’s scientist), but the real winner may just be the vitamin that results from the soaking up of sun… Vitamin D. Scientists have turned their focus to vitamin D and the host of health benefits associated with proper levels. According to the Scientific America, 75% if Americans are deficient.
We are just scratching the surface of our understanding of Vitamin D’s full roll in the body and its tie to a healthy lifestyle. Vitamin D is believed to be a strong antiviral and antimicrobial supplement – some even believe more powerful than expensive antiviral drugs (although further research is needed).
Research done in Japan showed that supplementing Vitamin D had as much as a 50% decrease in the likely hood of getting an upper respiratory infection.
Research done by Doctor Connell explains how Vitamin D lowers the symptoms, severity, and chance of getting a cold. Read more on his study here.
It is commonly believe that taking a zinc lozenge or nasal spray at first sign of symptoms can reduce the duration of the cold. However, studies seem to be mixed and side effects seem to be high (including loss of smell for those using nasal spray).
There are a few studies that show zinc effectively shortening the duration by about a day, but other studies that show no significant effect on colds.
Overall, we do not recommend zinc supplements as a cold remedy. Try one of the herbal supplements listed above.
Thanks so much for reading. What supplements have you tried? Let us know what is working and what is not working in the comments below.
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