With the cold season upon us, certain companies are seeing boosts in their sales. Companies that make herbal remedies, especially, see huge boosts because, rightfully so, people don't want to get freakin' sick. And because they're "herbal," they can basically claim whatever they want and can sell over the counter. This is very bad.
Since no real, large studies have been done, the effects of these remedies is frequently unknown. What you'll then find, because the companies are afraid of finding that .01% of the population that explodes when given the drug, the dose is not an effective dose. It's diluted to the point of uselessness. So even if the substance does something, the dose they recommend is too low to do it.
I have listed one of these herbal remedies, the omnipresent Echinachea. People bang this stuff back like candy every cold season and most, if not all of the people I know who have taken it, claim to feel better afterwards. Ahh, the wonders of the placebo effect.
While echinacea is the only traditional herbal medication I mention here, all herbal medications are available OTC, and that means either the dose is too small to do anything or it's effective, and if it's effective that means it's big enough to have side effects we probably don't know about. And remember, they may be herbal, but they're still drugs, and ALL DRUGS HAVE SIDE EFFECTS. If an effective dose of some herbal drug is 500mg, that means something will happen, although all the scientific evidence suggests that that will not be what you wanted.
So, for the sake of repetition, I'll list four popular cold remedies, one of which I take, another I fell for, and two others I knew were bullshit from day one.
Zicam: I fell for Zicam hard. I read an article in the local newspaper about how Zicam was the first cold remedy proven in scientific studies to reduce the duration and severity of the cold. It had all the good stuff on back: an effective dose, a study, listings of active and inactive ingredients, and a line of products behind the name that all had well-known and effective remedies for symptoms like congestion and the sort.
I felt pretty confident in Zicam, and so, over the course of the next two years, when I was feeling a bit stuffy, or got that little tingle in my throat, out came the slime-covered Q-Tip and into my nose it went. That was until not too long ago, when I got sick with what was probably a cold, basically just feeling stuffy and crappy, and I took Zicam... and I kept taking Zicam. Over and over. Fluids, fruits, vitamin C, and Zicam. And I just kept... feeling... BAD.
The symptoms would not go away. I began to get suspicious. Ibuprofin doesn't get rid of my headache sometimes. If Zicam really worked, either this wasn't a cold or Zicam didn't work. I felt pretty confident that it was just a cold, the symptoms were too mild to be otherwise, but it just kept hanging around. They're trying to tell me that these were shortened symptoms? Ha! Something was wrong. So I did what I should have done from the beginning; I researched the research.
Echinachia: Doesn't work, although a couple of studies say otherwise. I think it can be written off as the placebo effect. It does have some nast side-effects in high doses and can interact with immunosuppressants.
Vitamin C: Linus Pauling swore by it and he was really smart... he also lived to 93. The research is inconclusive, leaning towards it not doing much. Still, the research definitely shows it can't hurt you, so eat up!
Airborne: Does NOTHING SPECIAL. It's got a big, honkin' dose of vitamin C in it, so if vitamin C does something, this might, but the research showing an effect is for super-high doses, in excess of 10 grams, and sometimes intravenously.
Chicken Soup: The best cure there is. No research supports it being a real cure, but the steam, warmth, easy digestibility, and dense nutrient mix are all good for getting over a cold quick. This is the only thing that really helps. Unlike the vitamin C, don't try this intravenously.