A cure for the common cold (hiding in plain sight)

In this month’s issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, I discuss some simple—but highly effective—solutions for preventing colds and flu. And I also share some proven techniques that can help if you do come down with a cold. But where is that elusive mainstream “cure for the common cold”?

My late father-in-law, Jack O’Leary, used to ask me long ago why, with all their billions in tax-payer provided research money, the NIH wasn’t working on a cure for the common cold (instead of all the arcane pursuits I would tell him about). As a journalist and advertising executive, he knew that kind of cure would provide the story—and the sale—of the century. Not to mention save millions of days of lost work and discomfort for Americans. 

I had to break it to him that addressing such a “common” concern just wouldn’t be in keeping with the “elevated pursuits”  and self-opinions of the Mandarins of Medicine at the NIH. Which made him wonder, as a lifelong hard-working man and taxpayer, what exactly we (who pay the bills) are really getting out of all this research at NIH?

I only wish he were still here to see the results of a new study on what may very well be the elusive cure he asked about. Granted, this research didn’t, and wouldn’t, come from the NIH. But it should finally give many, many people some much needed relief.

As it turns out, the well-known herbal product Echinacea can reduce the symptoms and duration of a cold once you catch one.

Of course, Echinacea is well-known these days. It’s been a common-sense folk remedy for centuries. And research on it has also been around for a long time. In fact, we published a study showing Echinacea’s benefits for colds back in 1994—in the very first issue of the first medical research journal on CAM, which I had founded. And, even then, the results were “nothing to sneeze at.”

But this new research should silence the critics and the skeptics once and for all. It’s the largest clinical trial on Echinacea ever conducted. The study took place at the Common Cold Center in Cardiff, Wales, and involved 755 people over a period of four months. Those taking Echinacea had fewer colds, of shorter duration, with fewer recurrences of symptoms. The Echinacea treated group also used fewer over-the-counter remedies. And it was effective against influenza viruses as well. And this study is just in time to provide some hope for the flu since both the flu vaccine and the flu treatment, Tamiflu, have now been shown to be victims of more bad science in favor of drug profits.

In addition to being the largest study on Echinacea to-date, it is also the first to track its effectiveness against specific viruses of different varieties. And the fact that it fared so well makes sense, because Echinacea acts by stimulating the immune system to do its job—and get a jump on viruses before they multiply. 

We rely on the immune system for combatting all germs—whether they’re viral or bacterial. So immune-stimulators like Echinacea are a much better way to tackle infections of any type. Instead of just endlessly searching for antibiotics that are effective against only certain bacteria. Plus, antibiotics don’t work at all for the viruses that cause colds and flus.

But Echinacea does. And now the research has become incontrovertible.

The dose used in this study to effectively prevent colds was 2,400 mg per day of a standardized, liquid Echinacea extract. The dose was increased to 4,000 mg per day if a participant came down with cold symptoms. Both doses were effective for their intended purposes. But one helpful hint to keep in mind if you decide to use Echinacea this winter:

Participants in this study were asked to hold the liquid in their mouths for 10 seconds to ensure it would make direct local contact with any potential viruses in the upper throat.

“Safety and efficacy profile of Echinacea purpurea to prevent common cold episodes: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012:841315. Epub 2012 Sep 16