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The cold war.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

There is no cure for the common cold.

There is no cure for the common cold.

There is no cure for the common cold.

Don't you hate that? How many times have you heard that?

Mankind has figured out how to fly to the moon and transplant the face of a dead human onto a live one, but there's still no cure in the entire cosmos for the most common thing with the most uncommon name: acute viral nasopharyngitis.

Still, we try. The Aztecs and the Mayans were known to use a mixture of chili pepper, honey and tobacco to try to cure the cold.

There are, in fact, as many home remedies as there are chicken soup recipes.

There's, uh, chicken soup. But it has to be really good chicken soup. There's garlic. And salt water. And nasal rinse with salt in it. Now there's even something called Airborne, an "effervescent health formula" created by a schoolteacher in conjunction with nutrition experts. Its ingredients include herbal extracts, vitamins, electrolytes, amino acids and antioxidants.

Americans spend almost $3 billion annually on over-the-counter cold medications, according to a 2003 University of Michigan study. But the best medicine for the common cold is prevention, Lane County Public Health nursing supervisor Betsy Meredith says.

``The most bang for your buck is washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough and staying home when you're sick,'' she says.

Eugene physician Martin Jones' advice? ``Always blow both nostrils together.'' Seriously. Blowing phlegm and mucus out of just one can clog your ears and sinuses and lead to infection, Jones says.

With that appetizing thought, here's a look at some old and some new ways to fight the common cold:

Soup for you!

Chicken soup has been the choice of moms for, well, longer than any of us have been around. But does it really work? According to a University of Nebraska study in 2000, it can definitely help. After blind taste tests involving 26 chicken soup recipes, the study concluded that chicken soup can help reduce congestion and tissue inflammation and make breathing easier during a nasty cold.

Of those 26 recipes, the Original SoupMan's refrigerated chicken vegetable soup was the only one that got an "excellent" rating. And in case you were wondering, the Original SoupMan himself, Al Yeganeh, was the inspiration for the Soup Nazi character on TV's "Seinfeld."

I ``zinc'' this will work

According to the Mayo Clinic, most studies on the use of zinc to fight colds are flawed. That doesn't stop consumers from spending tons of cash on products such as Zicam Cold Remedy. Nor does the fact that about 340 people have sued Matrixx Initiatives, makers of the product, claiming loss of smell, Consumer Reports said.

In lab tests, zinc has been shown to interfere with the replication of cold viruses. It can be found in pills, sprays and nasal gels. But too much zinc has been known to impair immunity, lower "good" cholesterol, cause nausea and lead to a copper deficiency.

Flying high?

Airborne - which includes herbal extracts, vitamins, electrolytes, amino acids and antioxidants - was the brainchild of second-grade teacher Victoria Knight-McDowell, a Carmel, Calif., woman who was tired of catching colds from students or whenever she flew on a plane.

"A lot of people swear by it," says David Jorgensen, the pharmacist at Everett's Villa Pharmacy in Eugene. The combination of vitamins and minerals in Airborne is simply a way for your body to maintain its own defenses, he says.

With sales of $65 million from October 2004 to October 2005, Airborne claims "there's nothing else like it." It has spawned imitations, such as AirShield and a Walgreen's product, Wal-borne.

Regardless of whether they work, Consumer Reports cautions against taking too much of these products because each tablet contains 1,000 milligrams of Vitamin C. The recommended adult dose for Airborne and Wal-borne is "one tablet every three hours as necessary." Taking more than 2,000 milligrams of Vitamin C per day is said to increase the risk of diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset.

Care for a breath mint?

What about garlic, which is said to boost the immune system? Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired psychiatrist and longtime opponent of alternative medicine (he runs the Web site Quackwatch.org), told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently that using garlic and other natural remedies to prevent or cure a cold is "preposterous."

Jorgensen's take: "I guess it'd just keep people away from you." So, at least, you won't catch colds from them.

Echiwhat?

It's called echinacea, and it's the top-selling herbal remedy in the United States. Once again, Consumer Reports had to rain on our cold-fighting parade. It tested 19 echinacea pill supplements and found "a number of possible problems with contents and labeling that could complicate consumers' buying decisions." Some contained lead. Others had too little phenols and angustifolia, ingredients contained in echinacea. Consumer Reports also found that echinacea is unsafe for people with autoimmune disease, allergies to ragweed and daisies, and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. A New England Journal of Medicine study found that echinacea may adversely interact with other medications.

Lightly salted

The Mayo Clinic says that gargling an 8-ounce glass of warm water with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt can temporarily relieve a sore or scratchy throat. Over-the-counter saline nasal sprays also combat stuffiness and congestion.

Vitamin C

Again, taking too much of this stuff can cause diarrhea, stomach trouble and can be bad for your teeth and bones because of acidity. A few studies have found that Vitamin C can reduce the duration of a cold, and people have been taking it for years as a preventive measure. But Barrett says there's no proof it does anything.

Decongestants/antihistamines

The Food and Drug Administration recommends decongestants to unclog your stuffy nose. But, of course, here in Oregon you now need a doctor's prescription just to get some Sudafed - one of the most common over-the-counter decongestants. (Sudafed contains pseudoephedrine, which is used by some methamphetamine cooks).

Jorgensen, the pharmacist, says all you can do with a cold is treat the symptoms. Use decongestants to break up a chest cold, an antihistamine for a runny nose and take something for that cough, he says. Consumer Reports recommends trying a nasal spray, such as Neo-Synephrine or Afrin 12-Hour, because they work faster than oral decongestants and are less likely to have side effects or drug interactions.

A note to parents

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say you should only give infants cough and cold medications with a physician's consent. Three infant deaths in the United States recently were linked to these medications. About 1,500 children younger than 2 years were treated in emergency rooms after using them, according to a Jan. 12 report by Reuters news service. Most over-the-counter medications lack accurate dosing instructions for infants. A safer and probably more effective treatment for infants includes softening nasal secretions with saline nose drops or a cool-mist humidifier, then clearing the nose with a rubber suction bulb.
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Title Annotation:Features; Yeah, yeah, you can't `cure' it, but still we try - with everything from soup to zinc
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 29, 2007
Words:1181
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