There's nothing worse than a summer cold, particularly when the weather is scorching. And although conventional medicine throws a load of mostly useless products at respiratory infections, alternative medicine provides some real solutions.
* Nutritional supplements Taking high doses of vitamin C (say, 1 g daily) for the common cold and upper respiratory tract infections is very popular - and it turns out that Linus Pauling got it mostly right. Some 30 long-term, well-controlled trials have shown that, while vitamin C has no effect on prevention, it does shorten the misery of such afflictions by nearly a whole day (Systematic Review: Vitamin C for Respiratory Tract Infection, Cochrane Library, 1997).
* Homoeopathy Mimosa pudica, at both the 3D and 6D potencies, has demonstrated with a number of provings that it is useful in treating rhinitis, sinusitis, colds and flu. In addition, it can also help with acute ear infections, eye infections such as conjunctivitis and blepharitis, and general allergic-type hypersensitivity complaints (Br Hom J, 1970; 59: 42-3; Br Hom J, 1971; 60: 97-104).
Another possibility is Galphimia glauca. A review of seven separately conducted, randomised, placebo-controlled trials involving 752 patients shows that this homoeopathic remedy is effective in 79 per cent of allergic rhinitis cases, improving or removing both eye and nose irritations as effectively as orthodox treatments (Forsch Komplementarmed, 1996; 3: 230-4).
* Homoeopathic combination therapy The complex homoeopathic remedy, made by Lehning Laboratories in France, which goes under the name L.52 has been shown in a French trial to help with many of the annoying symptoms of colds and also to speed recovery (Casanova R et al. L.52: An Influenza Treatment, Metz: Editions Lehning, 1988).
* Oriental Medicine Cang er zi (Fructus Xanthii sibirici) is used against colds. In a controlled clinical trial in 207 patients with chronic rhinitis, symptoms disappeared in all but 15 cases treated with a preparation of Cang er zi and sesame oil. Follow-up over three years revealed no recurrences. This remedy also has a proven inhibitory effect against Staphylococcus aureus (Bensky D, Gamble A, Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, revised edn, Seattle, WA: Eastland Press, 1993: 162-3).
The herbal medicine Chuan xin lian (Andrographis paniculata) has demonstrated its effectiveness in three controlled trials. If taken during the first stages of a cold or flu, it will significantly reduce the severity and duration of symptoms compared with a placebo (Phytother Res, 1995; 9: 559-62; Phytomedicine, 1997; 3: 315-8; Phytomedicine, 1999; 6: 217-23).
* Acupressure Self-massaging of the various nasal acupressure points can significantly - and quickly - relieve nasal congestion (Am J Rhinol, 1999; 22: 225-7).
* Sauna One study has shown that people who take sauna baths once or twice a week for six months have a lower incidence of colds (although when they do come down with one, the severity and length are as expected) (Ann Med, 1990; 22: 225-7).
* Moderate exercise If undertaken regularly, this can help prevent upper respiratory tract infections. But, ironically, your greatest risk of colds is not only being sedentary, but also undergoing intense physical training (Int J Sports Med, 1997; 18: S69-77; Nieman DC, Exercise and immune function: recent developments, in Shanahan J (ed), Exercise for Health, Hong Kong: Adis International, 2000). As with all things, the body prefers moderation.
* Traditional European Folk Medicine Don't forget good old steam inhalation, which does have scientific evidence of working. In a placebo-controlled study, steam inhalation with Matricaria recutita (German chamomile) was shown to have a beneficial effect on the common cold - the more of it used, the better the results (Eur J Pharm, 1990; 183: 728-9).
Harald Gaier has moved to The Diagnostic Clinic (tel: 020 7009 4650).