There’s no cure yet for the common cold, but you may be able to shorten the amount of time you’re sick by trying some promising supplements and practicing good self-care.
Stroll the aisles of any drugstore and you’ll see an impressive range of products claiming to shorten the length of your cold. Few of them are backed by solid science. Here’s a list of remedies known to make a difference in how long colds last:
1. Vitamin C
Taking a vitamin C supplement isn’t likely to prevent a cold. However, studies show that it may reduce the duration of colds. A 2013 review of studies noted that regular supplementation (1 to 2 grams daily) reduced the duration of a cold in adults by 8 percent and in children by 14 percent. It also reduced the severity of colds overall.
The recommended daily dose of vitamin C is 90 milligrams for men and 75 mg for non-pregnant women. Doses on the upper limit (2000 mg) can cause some side effects, so taking higher doses for any duration comes with this risk.
Here’s the key: Don’t wait until you feel the symptoms coming on: Take the recommended dose every day. Taking vitamin C when a cold starts may not have much effect on how you feel or how long the cold hangs on.
Close to three decades of research on colds and zinc have yielded mixed results, but a 2017 review of studies indicated that zinc lozenges may help you get over a cold faster than you would without it. On average, the length of cold duration was cut down by 33 percent, which could mean at least a couple days sooner of relief.
It’s important to note that the dosages in these studies, 80 to 92 mg a day, are much higher than the daily maximum recommended by the National Institutes of Health. The 2017 review points out, though, that doses of up to 150 mg of zinc per day are routinely taken for months in certain conditions with few side effects.
If you’re taking antibiotics, penicillamine (Cuprimine) for arthritis, or certain diuretics, talk to your doctor before taking zinc. The combination could reduce the effectiveness of your medications or the zinc.
A 2012 study that showed positive benefits of echinacea for colds had participants taking 2400 mg daily over four months. Some people who take echinacea report unwanted side effects, such as nausea and diarrhea. Talk to your doctor before trying echinacea to confirm it won’t interfere with any other medicines or supplements you’re taking.
4. Black elderberry syrup
Black elderberry is a traditional remedy used to fight colds in many parts of the world. Although research is limited, at least one older study showed elderberry syrup shortened the length of colds in people with flu-like symptoms by an average of four days.
A more recent 2016 placebo-controlled, double-blind study of 312 plane travelers showed that who took elderberry supplements had a significant reduction of cold duration and severity versus those who took a placebo.
Elderberry syrup is cooked and concentrated. Don’t confuse it with raw elderberries, seeds, and bark, which can be toxic.
5. Beetroot juice
A 2019 study tracked 76 students who were at risk for catching colds during a stressful final exam period. Those who drank a small amount of beetroot juice seven times a day showed fewer cold symptoms than those who had not. In the study, the remedy was especially helpful for students with asthma.
Because beetroot juice is high in dietary nitrate, it increases the body’s production of nitric oxide, which can help protect you against respiratory infections.
If you’re prone to kidney stones, watch out for beetroot, which contains oxalates. These are known to contribute to kidney stone formation.
6. Probiotic drinks
Although studies on probiotics and colds are limited, at least one study suggests that drinking a probiotic drink that contains Lactobacillus, L. casei 431, can reduce the duration of a cold, especially in regard to respiratory symptoms.
Probiotic bacteria vary from product to product, so check the label to know which one you’re buying.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you get extra rest when you have a cold.
While it can be tempting to try and boost your immune system with exercise, it’s probably best to take it easy for a few days. In fact, if you don’t get enough sleep day to day, you may be increasing your vulnerability to colds.
If your child is having trouble getting good sleep to beat a cold, try honey, one of the most relied-on remedies for treating cold symptoms. A 2012 study showed that a spoonful of honey at bedtime can help kids sleep better and reduce nighttime coughing. It can also help soothe a sore throat.
9. Over-the-counter medicines
Cold symptoms like coughing, sneezing, runny nose, congestion, sore throat, and headache can make it hard to function during the day and hard to rest at night.
Decongestants, pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, cough suppressants, and antihistamines can treat symptoms so you feel better faster, even if the viral infection lingers. Check with a pediatrician before giving your child any over-the-counter medicine.
10. Lots of liquids
Drinking plenty of fluids is always good when you’re trying to get rid of a cold. Hot tea, water, chicken soup, and other liquids will keep you hydrated, especially if you have a fever. They can also loosen congestion in your chest and nasal passages so you can breathe.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol, though, because they can leave you dehydrated, and they can interfere with the sleep and rest you need for recovery.
When To Go To The Doctor
Colds that don’t go away quickly can lead to other illnesses like pneumonia, lung infections, ear infections, and sinus infections. See your doctor if :
- your symptoms last longer than 10 days
- you have a fever over 101.3°F (38.5°C)
- you begin vomiting violently
- your sinuses ache
- your cough begins to sound like a wheeze
- you feel pain in your chest
- you have trouble breathing
At the first sign of a cold, most of us want to make sure the sniffles, sneezing, and other symptoms go away as quickly as possible.
If you take vitamin C regularly, your cold symptoms may disappear earlier. And there is some scientific support for trying remedies like zinc, echinacea, elderberry preparations, beetroot juice, and probiotic drinks to prevent or shorten the duration of a cold.
The best way to beat a cold fast is to rest, drink lots of fluids, and treat the symptoms with medicines that relieve pain, coughing, and congestion.
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