The Centers For Disease Control estimates that between 5% and 20% of the U.S. population gets the flu each year, and the National Institute of Health claims that Americans suffer from a billion colds annually. Before you run to the pharmacy to stock up on remedies at the sign of that first sniffle, however, beware of products that waste your money instead of helping your cold. Here are three popular cold-care products that won't alleviate your symptoms, but will lift cash from your wallet.
Most medical studies indicate that this popular herbal remedy does not prevent or treat colds. An expensive, yet common, product in this category is Airborne ($20 for 30 tablets), which contains a combination of antioxidants, amino acids and herbs, including echinacea. There's no scientific research that proves Airborne can stop or reduce the severity of colds and flu. Airborne funded their own study to prove otherwise, but the study was conducted by two laypeople instead of by doctors or scientists. The company was forced to concede false advertising and settle with customers for a whopping $23 million last year. The product is now marketed as an "immunity boosting supplement."
Another popular "natural" treatment, zinc is said to alleviate the severity of a cold. Again, however, this mineral supplement has a very mixed scientific review. Its benefits may be very minor at best. With all of the contradictory evidence out there for zinc, you may want to think twice before dropping $10 for a box of Zicam or $6 for Cold-Eeze at the pharmacy.
A 2004 Penn State College of Medicine study of over-the-counter (OTC) cough suppressants and expectorants (products that are supposed to reduce coughing and relieve chest congestion) found that in 60% of the studies, a placebo (a treatment with no active ingredients) worked just as well. The American College of Chest Physicians agrees: In a 2006 study, they found no evidence that OTC cough suppressants or expectorants help people with coughing caused by colds or flu. With eight ounces of Robitussin going for over $10 these days, you may be better off with tea and honey, which coats and soothes the throat.
So what's an ill LearnVester to do? First, invest in preventative flu (and swine flu) shots, which actually do prevent or reduce the severity of the flu. If your employer doesn't offer a free flu shot program, most drugstores will provide you with a shot for around $25. Over-the counter pain relievers will stave off the aches and pains; proper hydration, nutrition, and rest will help your body bounce back as quickly as possible. This flu season, too, shall pass.