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Natural Cold Remedies: What Works and What Doesn’t

This topic is very near to my pharmacy and holistic health heart. I’m going to talk about my favorite, evidence-based natural cold/flu remedies. I’m also going to expose other popular remedies that don’t have evidence to back their health claims.

Natural Remedies, supplements and foods can interact with certain medications and disease states so make sure to talk to your doctor and pharmacist before supplementing. Also, most of this information is based on studies done in adults. Talking with your child’s pediatrician for giving them any supplements or over the counter medication.

What is the “Common Cold”?

The common cold is caused by a variety of viruses not bacteria. Common symptoms of a cold include runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, body aches, a slight fever, and overall fatigue. Because the cold is caused by a virus, antibiotics will do nothing in curing the common cold. Most people can fight off the common cold by themselves without a doctor’s help, but there are instances when adults and children should see a doctor. If you want to know those parameters or if you have additional questions about the cold, I’ve linked the Mayo Clinic article down below in my scientific references section.


According to Mayo-Clinic and the research articles I’ve read, increasing vitamin-C intake when sick doesn’t help the average healthy person prevent colds. Overall, the evidence to date suggests regular intakes of vitamin C at doses of at least 200 mg/day do not reduce the incidence of the common cold in the general population, but such intakes might be helpful in people exposed to extreme physical exercise or cold environments and those with marginal vitamin C status, such as the elderly and chronic smokers. The use of vitamin C supplements might shorten the duration of the common cold and improve symptom severity in the general population, However, taking vitamin C after the onset of cold symptoms does not appear to be beneficial.

Because a lot of dietary supplements and products aren’t regulated by the Federal Drug Administration, it’s hard to trust product purity and safety. Look for the official USP, NSF or USDA organic label on products to ensure you’re getting a pure and safe supplement. In addition vitamin-C supplements in the form of ascorbic acid are the preferred source of supplemental vitamin-C


Many studies have been done on echinacea for the common cold and other upper respiratory tract infections.

While taking echinacea might slightly reduce your chances of catching a cold, Echinacea does not show quality evidence to shorten the length of a cold.

According to a review of echinacea for the treatment of the common cold, there might be a small benefit in taking or drinking echinacea to decrease the duration of a cold. However, there is conflicting evidence because most studies are done in a small group of patients and studies use different type of echinacea plant species.


You can find zinc added to several cough and cold medications, but the evidence is mixed. According to Natural Medicines database and Mayo Clinic the majority of research shows if adults take zinc gluconate or zinc acetate lozenges providing 9-24 mg of elemental zinc per dose every 2 hours while awake, starting within 48 hours of symptom onset for a total daily dose of >75 mg in order to attain a mean duration reduction of 3 days…I don’t know about you, but that is a lot of rules and dosing to keep track of when I’m sick.

More recently, a Cochrane review concluded “zinc (lozenges or syrup) is beneficial in reducing the duration and severity of the common cold in healthy people, when taken within 24 hours of onset of symptoms”. However, there are study design flaws with the trials showing a positive effect and more research is needed to determine the optimal dosage, zinc formulation and duration of treatment before a general recommendation for zinc in the treatment of the common cold can be made.

Excess zinc can have side effects like nausea and vomiting. Most notably, in 2009 the FDA issues a warning against the use of zinc-containing nasal cold remedies because they’ve been associated with long-lasting or permanent loss of smell. To me personally, the confusing, detailed timing and dosing strategy on top of the potential side effects outweigh the benefits of taking zinc. Although, overall zinc appears to be beneficial under certain circumstances.

Immunity Shots

Immunity shots are everywhere. Most immunity shots at contain ginger, turmeric, lemon, salt, echinacea and potentially pre/probiotics. The issues I have with most pre-made immunity shots are that they are expensive, most ingredients don’t have much evidence behind them, and most are loaded with added sugar. Plus, I don’t have the oney to spend 10 dollars on an immunity shot, let alone an alcoholic shot.

However, I am all for making your own immunity shot if that is something you want to do to help your symptoms. Lemon has vitamin C, turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, salt can help your electrolyte balance, and ginger is proven to help with nausea and muscle aches. You can also make it a tea to help soothe a sore throat. But I caution you to refrain from thinking immunity shots are going to magically cure you of your symptoms.

What Works

Easy ways that have approved my Mayo Clinic to combat cold symptoms are:

· Staying hydrated by drinking a lot of warm or room-temperature water or lemon water with honey to soothe a sore throat

· The use of sore throat gargles and saline drops to help relive symptoms of sore throat and stuffy noses

· The use of a humidifier to add moisture to the air to help loosen congestion

Also, it’s important to get a lot of rest. If you’re tired, sleep. Don’t feel bad about taking time to rest your body. Don’t feel pressured to exercise or add stressors when you’re sick. Take care of you.


· Signs/Symptoms of the Cold & When to See a Doctor:

Vitamin C:

· Douglas RM, Hemilä H. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. PLoS Med 2005;2:e168. [PubMed abstract]

· Douglas RM, Hemilä H, Chalker E, Treacy B. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2007;(3):CD000980. [PubMed abstract]

· Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Ann Nutr Metab 2006;50:85-94. [PubMed abstract]

· Hemilä H. The role of vitamin C in the treatment of the common cold. Am Fam Physician 2007;76:1111, 1115. [PubMed abstract]

· Johnston CS. The antihistamine action of ascorbic acid. Subcell Biochem 1996;25:189-213. [PubMed abstract]

· Vitamin C Fact Sheet from National Institutes of Health:


· Barrett B, Brown R, Rakel D, et al. Echinacea for treating the common cold: a randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2010;153(12):769-777.

· David S, Cunningham R. Echinacea for the prevention and treatment of upper respiratory tract infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2019;44:18-26.

· Echinacea. Natural Medicines website. Accessed at on October 10, 2019. [Database subscription].


· Hulisz D. Efficacy of zinc against common cold viruses: an overview. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003) 2004;44:594-603. [PubMed abstract]

· Caruso TJ, Prober CG, Gwaltney JM Jr. Treatment of naturally acquired common colds with zinc: a structured review. Clin Infect Dis 2007;45:569-74. [PubMed abstract]

· Prasad AS, Beck FW, 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. [PubMed abstract]

· Turner RB, Cetnarowski WE. Effect of treatment with zinc gluconate or zinc acetate on experimental and natural colds. Clin Infect Dis 2000;31:1202-8. [PubMed abstract]

· Eby GA, Halcomb WW. Ineffectiveness of zinc gluconate nasal spray and zinc orotate lozenges in common-cold treatment: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Altern Ther Health Med 2006;12:34-8. [PubMed abstract]

· Singh M, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Feb 16;2:CD001364. [PubMed abstract]

Immunity Shots:

· Turmeric. Natural Medicines website. Accessed at [Database subscription].

· Crichton M, Marshall S, Marx W, et al. Efficacy of ginger (Zingiber officinale) in ameliorating chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and chemotherapy-related outcomes: a systematic review update and meta-analysis. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2019;119(12):2055-2068.

· Tóth B, Lantos T, Hegyi P, et al. Ginger (Zingiber officinale): an alternative for the prevention of postoperative nausea and vomiting. A meta-analysis. Phytomedicine. 2018;50:8-18.

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