Cure for the common cold remains elusive
DEAR DOCTOR K: Is there any way to prevent a cold?
DEAR READER: The typical cold is a relatively mild misery that goes away without special treatment after about a week. Still, it's a misery most of us would rather avoid.
Colds are caused by viruses -- more than 200 different types. Because the infection is not bacterial, antibiotics don't help. Over-the-counter cold medicines are available, but not always effective.
So the search continues for anything that can fend off cold-causing viruses or speed their exit from your body. Here is a rundown of some of the candidates.
·Vitamins. Nobel laureate Linus Pauling proposed that large daily doses -- 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams (mg) --- of vitamin C could prevent colds. Pauling was a genius who made major scientific discoveries and was awarded the Nobel Prize. But even geniuses can be wrong. By and large, research hasn't supported his assertion.
There's some evidence that vitamins D and E might help fend off respiratory infections, but the evidence is not strong enough to recommend either vitamin for cold-fighting purposes.
n Echinacea. Research hasn't been encouraging. One review found some evidence that a certain part of one particular species of the Echinacea plant family might be an effective early treatment for colds in adults. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Other plant-based treatments, such as ginseng, elderberry, garlic and olive leaf, have been offered as cold preventives and cures. But none has emerged as clearly effective.
n Zinc. The results have been mixed. A 2011 meta-analysis found that generally healthy people who took zinc within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms reduced the duration and severity of their colds, compared to people who took a sugar pill. But there's no word yet on what dose and formulation of zinc is best.
n Exercise. Here's another reason to work out. Regular exercise may put your body in a better position to fight off a cold. Regular exercise seems to invigorate the immune system. (But there is also some evidence that the kind of intensive training that top athletes engage in can actually weaken the immune system.)
n Sleep. Mom was right: Getting a good night's sleep keeps you healthy and may keep colds away. In one study, people who got less than seven hours of sleep a night were almost three times as likely to get a cold as those who got eight or more hours of sleep.
I know I'm going to get letters from people who swear that a vitamin or an herbal preparation or zinc works for them. I'm not really disagreeing with them.
A treatment that does not work for the average person still may work for some people. If you're convinced a treatment helps you, and if it doesn't pose any risk, then why not use it?
To contact Dr. K, go to Ask DoctorK.com, or send mail to Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.