Every Cold and Flu Treatment That Has Been Recommended to me in the Past Two Months (And What the Evidence Says)

Hey everyone, I’ve been out of the blogging routine for way too long now, so I’m going to try to get back into the swing of things by writing about all of the cold and flu remedies that I’ve been told to try in the past couple of months. I’ve been sick since midway through December. First I had a cold, and just when I was getting over that I caught a nasty cough virus that’s been floating around Winnipeg this winter, and now I have a cold again as well as remnants of that damn cough combined with the return of my asthma. Party! And when you’re coughing and your voice is all nasally people tend to tell you what you need to do to get better.

The following are all of the remedies (alternative and mainstream) that have been recommended to me, as well as the best non-propagandaish information I could find on each:

Vitamin C

  • Rose to popularity as a treatment for the common cold in the 1970s after this book by Linus Pauling was published.
    • The Cochrane Collaboration is an organization that looks at the body of evidence for a given health care intervention and publishes reviews based on what the results of multiple trials say when considered as a whole. Here‘s the Vitamin C review. In a nutshell:
      • Regular ingestion of vitamin C had no effect on common cold incidence in the ordinary population.
      • It had a modest, but consistent effect in reducing the duration and severity of common cold symptoms.
    • If vitamin C doesn’t reduce my likelihood of coming down with a cold then I wouldn’t bother with taking a daily supplement, since it’s pretty easy to find foods that contain more than enough vitamin C, however it seems to me that it may be worth it to take 0.2g of Vitamin C per day to reduce the length of a cold.
    • Here‘s a podcast episode on the subject.
  • It is also frequently recommended as a way to “boost your immune system”
    • I’ll link to a few articles explaining why the idea that you can boost your immune system is little more than a marketing gimmick, but I’ll try to summarize: if your immune system is working normally it can’t be boosted, but exposure to illnesses (ex. vaccination) will improve your chances of not getting sick. I really think you should read the articles though: One, Two and Three.

Oil of Oregano

  • A few different people recommended Oil of Oregano to me, but nobody really had a clear description of what it’s supposed to do, or what illnesses it’s supposed to treat. There are all kinds of claims made about it but the evidence is lacking. Here‘s a good summary from Science-Based Pharmacy:
    “There is no published evidence to demonstrate that that oil of oregano is effective for any medical condition or illness. There is some very limited evidence to suggest that it might be useful for parasite infections – but given the evidence consists of only one study with 14 patients, and no placebo comparison, we really have no idea if the oregano oil was effective. The bottom line is that despite all the marketing, press, and sales, there is no research that exists to demonstrate that oil of oregano does anything useful in or on our bodies.”

Echinacea

  • A recent study (published in December, 2010) concluded that “illness duration and severity were not statistically significant with echinacea compared with placebo. These results do not support the ability of this dose of the echinacea formulation to substantively change the course of the common cold.”
  • Here‘s an assessment of the evidence for Echinacea by Steve Novella of the Skeptics’ Guide podcast. It’s from 2007, so it was written before that most recent study was published.
  • I should mention that I found both of these links on Skeptic North’s article, Coughs, colds and the “appealing but mistaken concept of boosting the immune system”

Garlic

  • I think this may have been the first time that somebody recommended garlic to me as a cold remedy, but basically it was just recommended that I eat a ton of garlic. I love garlic, so I have no problem incorporating it into my diet, especially when I’m going to be home sick from work for a few days and nobody has to smell me. But will it treat my cold?
  • There is a Cochrane review on the use of garlic for treating the common cold, but there was only one study that fulfilled the criteria for the review and it was a small one (146 participants). The study found that people who took garlic every day for 3 months had fewer colds, but it would take a larger trial to confirm these findings. There were other studies claiming that garlic is helpful in preventing the cold, but they were poor quality so they didn’t meet the Cochrane review standards.
  • I wouldn’t take or recommend garlic based on such poor evidence, although I wouldn’t advise against adding it to spaghetti sauce either.

Cold-fX

  • I have a friend who swears by Cold-fX, which means that for the past couple of months every time I converse with her and I sniffle or cough she tries pushing it on me. I know she means well, but I’m skeptical of any product that makes vague claims like “strengthens the immune system.” To me, that’s meaningless. It’s also fairly pricey, so it’s not worth it to me to spend money on something that has poor supporting evidence.
  • Science-based Pharmacy has an article looking at the evidence related to Cold-fX.
  • My Cold-fX loving friend always tells me “when I take it my colds don’t last as long,” but that’s not something that convinces me because: a) colds don’t always last the same length, b) personal testimonials aren’t helpful because there’s no way of knowing whether an individual would have gotten better without the treatment (this is why trials need large numbers and placebo groups), and c) who keeps track of how long their cold is anyways? People recover from colds whether or not they use a treatment, but without proper trials it’s impossible to say for sure whether something like Cold-fX has an effect.

Buckleys/NyQuil/any cough syrup

  • Personally, cough syrup did nothing for me. Buckleys provided 5 seconds of cooling in my throat before I had to start coughing again. All it did was put me to sleep, which was definitely welcome. But it made me doubtful that cough syrup does anything to alleviate symptoms.
  • I always thought of cough syrups as being efficacious just because they’re pretty mainstream medicine (not that that is a good argument for any treatment), but even Wikipedia has this to say: “There however is no good evidence for or against the use of these medications in those with a cough. Even though they are used by 10% of American children weekly, they are not recommended in children 6 years of age or younger due to lack of evidence showing effect, and concerns of harm.
  • The Cochrane review on “over-the-counter medications for acute cough” concludes: “There is no good evidence for or against the effectiveness of OTC medicines in acute cough. The results of this review have to be interpreted with caution due to differences in study characteristics and quality. Studies often showed conflicting results with uncertainty regarding clinical relevance. Higher quality evidence is needed to determine the effectiveness of self-care treatments for acute cough.”

Neti Pot

  • I actually can’t talk about the Neti Pot without gagging. The thought of sticking something up my nose and pouring a saline solution through my sinuses to wash snot out into my sink is so off-putting to me that I’ll probably never try it.
  • Neti Pots are an example of an alternative medicine practice that has been validated (to an extent), although evidence has shown that using it on a regular basis can increase your risk of sinus infections.

It’s funny that when you’re sick everyone around you puts on their doctor hat – all of a sudden they’re all medical authorities. I have this compulsion too, I recommended my “treatments” of Advil for the sore throat and NyQuil to get some sleep – who knows if that combo is even safe! I think it’s hard to see someone suffering from any kind of illness and not want to help, so we offer up treatments in the hopes that it will make them feel better. Unfortunately this probably does more to line the pockets of drug and supplement companies, who play on peoples’ beliefs in certain treatments in spite of the poor evidence for their efficacy, than it does to soothe the symptoms of a virus.

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17 Responses to “Every Cold and Flu Treatment That Has Been Recommended to me in the Past Two Months (And What the Evidence Says)”


  1. 1 Gem Newman February 10, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    The reason that you didn’t get better is that you didn’t take Oscillococcinum. It’s homeopathic, and thus has been proven to work by the latest in quantum science.

    Also, on a more serious note, you should cross-post this to the Winnipeg Skeptics blog! It’s a really good summary!

  2. 2 Soothsaber February 11, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    I take supplements and try to stay healthy myself. I sell supplements on the side also. I have not really thought about natural supplements in terms of being a cure for any disease or symptom you might have. For instance, Vitamin C is for the PREVENTION of sickness, not a cure for it. Probiotics help prevent a (bad) bacteria infection, not for stopping it after it has happened (although a recommendation of mine had doctors scratching their heads). If you want a cure for a cold, sleep is your best bet. If you have trouble sleeping, only then do I recommend taking a sleep aid. My favorite passion flower or melatonin. I understand that NyQuil has alcohol that can dehydrate you. Exercise can help when you are sick even though you won’t feel like doing any. It starts a free-radical reaction that can assist your immune system in eliminating the foreign substance from your body. Any help for the immune system is very welcomed by it at any time. The way of life today has it constantly overloaded with the pesticides, growth hormones, herbicides, artificial flavorings and colorings that we put in foods, and air pollution that we breath, etc. It’s no wonder cancer is an epidemic.

  3. 3 Gem Newman February 11, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    @Soothsaber: Quite a lot of what you’ve said sounds like patent nonsense.

    Exercise can help when you are sick even though you won’t feel like doing any. It starts a free-radical reaction that can assist your immune system in eliminating the foreign substance from your body.

    That sounds suspiciously like technobabble. Do you have references?

    Also, I would caution those with a fever against vigorous exercise, as it could raise their body temperature and potentially cause brain damage.

    More details on exercise and illness from the Mayo Clinic.

    The way of life today has it constantly overloaded with the pesticides, growth hormones, herbicides, artificial flavorings and colorings that we put in foods, and air pollution that we breath, etc. It’s no wonder cancer is an epidemic.

    So artificial flavours and colourings are contributing to the cancer epidemic? That seems like an appallingly straightforward appeal to nature, one of the go-to logical fallacies of the CAM crowd. In any event, citation needed.

  4. 4 Soothsaber February 11, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    No Gem, I’m not going to hold your hand and provide you with numerous links that still won’t convince you. Nobody did this for me, I learned for myself. Maybe you could try too. I do have a response to your post, I just don’t have much time to invest in this.

    This free radical assistance is called the intercellular killing of bacteria (technobabble). I do understand that some people just don’t have the capacity to understand this level of science. It is difficult to comprehend.

    Also you made the wrong word bold, “vigorous” is the type of exercise they recommend you stay away from. A walk or any exercise that you would actually do when you are sick is actually beneficial to your body during sickness (maybe I should have my lawyer write this for you?). It raises your body temp to make it a lethal environment for bacteria and viruses.

  5. 5 Soothsaber February 11, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    My son died from (also) a fever so I know full and goddammed well what a fever can do to you.

  6. 6 Soothsaber February 11, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Ok, looks like I need to respond to your question about artificial additives in food. Read the book “Spontaneous Healing” By Dr Weil. He describes the process in which the immune system is needed to help remove cancerous cells from your body. Since it is overloaded already by unnecessary things like artificial colorings it has to spread its responsibility away from preventing cancer.

  7. 7 Gem Newman February 11, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    No Gem, I’m not going to hold your hand and provide you with numerous links that still won’t convince you. Nobody did this for me, I learned for myself. Maybe you could try too.

    That seems unnecessarily condescending. I am interested in investigating the validity of your assertions.

    This free radical assistance is called the intercellular killing of bacteria (technobabble). I do understand that some people just don’t have the capacity to understand this level of science. It is difficult to comprehend.

    I disagree when you state that “some people just don’t have the capacity to understand this level of science”; that seems needlessly arrogant.

    I think that you misunderstood my reference to technobabble—that’s understandable, and I should have been more clear. I understand that white blood cells, such as granulocytes, can release hydroxy radicals when combating invading micro-organisms. But you stated that exercise “starts a free-radical reaction that can assist your immune system”. If you are referring to “intracellular killing of bacteria” (presumably by white blood cells), I don’t understand how the degranulation of white blood cells would be triggered by exercise. If I have misunderstood what you are saying, please set me straight.

    When I said “technobabble”, I was referring to the predilection of CAM proponents to “blind with science”, using technical jargon (whether accurate or inaccurate) to distract from the substance of their arguments.

    My son died from (also) a fever so I know full and goddammed well what a fever can do to you.

    I had no reason to suspect this. It was not my intention to upset you with my comments.

    Since it is overloaded already by unnecessary things like artificial colorings it has to spread its responsibility away from preventing cancer.

    So artificial colours “overload” the immune system, and natural colours don’t? Again, this is simply an appeal to nature. The fact that a substance is “natural” does not mean that it is safe. Similarly, the fact that something is “unnatural” does not mean that it is unsafe. It doesn’t help that “natural” is an ill-defined term.

    Read the book “Spontaneous Healing” By Dr Weil.

    No. Books are not peer reviewed, and anyone can make just about any claim in a book without fear of censure. Additionally, Andrew Weil is heavily criticised for his promotion of non-evidence-based medical and dietary practices; that’s not to say that he is wrong on every score, only that his advice is best regarded with caution.

    If you would like to provide some actual academic literature on the subject, that might be helpful, however.

  8. 8 Soothsaber February 11, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Gem, as a skeptic I would think that you were skeptical of this drug machine backed by the drug companies and politicians. Why are you not? You fault me for backing a natural process over a synthetic process? What is wrong with leaning toward a natural process? It is the processes that keep us alive everyday for millions of years. If we could use these natural processes and learn about the sciences of them, we can use them to our advantage and reduce our dependence on drugs. Would you like some links on how drugs are bad for us? Even killing us needlessly under doctors care? I consider myself a skeptic also. There are many pharmaceutical sciences (not to be confused with medical science or biological science) that I respect like what an antibiotic can do for someone dying from a bacterial infection along with many others. But I am skeptical of blind trust of everything a doctor says. I, on the other hand, am skeptical of lots of so called “Natural remedies”. I have owned what I called a nutrition store and in that store I discredited many many natural remedies even though my customers wanted me to sell them these things. I could have made more money on ear candling and homeopathics but my search for effectiveness fell short. I am a more rounded skeptic than you. In the spirit of being a skeptic, you fall short. I have read Dr Weils books, I don’t believe him about everything, but it is common science that the immune system has to work to remove synthetic materials from your body. Also it has to work to remove potentially cancerous and cancerous cells from your body. Do the math.

    I am needlessly arrogant to people who speak ignorance without knowing. Yes, there are people who do not have the capacity to learn about modern biology. Some people do not want to learn. Where is their capacity until they change that fact? They simply do not know but are sure that they are right and even justify NOT reading books. What link or book did you want me to point you to? Even the Mayo Clinic is made up of Drs like Weil. Who oversees the reports that they produce? Even they have been wrong before. So if I had provided you a link, you can still use the same logic of “Books (the internet) are not peer reviewed, and anyone can make just about any claim in a book (or internet) without fear of censure”. Even Wikipedia is wrong sometimes. I don’t believe that I could satisfy you.

    If you want someone to be nice to you, don’t tell them that they are technobabbling or speaking nonsense. Anyway, exercise starts a free radical process. This process starts the “intracellular killing”. It’s not really that simple, there are plenty of processes to know about to fully understand this. Biology is not an easy science. No matter what your capacity for learning is, it is still difficult. Pharmaceutical science is a much easier science to understand than a science of figuring out how to make the body heal its self instead of forcing a treatment of a symptom.

    So in the spirit of being a skeptic, spread the love man, quit kissing the drug companies ass and do something that doctors only touch on in school. Learn biology. Be skeptical of what our government tells us. We as humans are too smart for our own good, we develop drugs for money and haven’t stopped to think about if there are better ways to do something. Our medical system is failing us. It is obvious to me when I hear someone going to a doctor and the doctor tells them they have high blood pressure and gives them a pill. I ask everytime, “did they help you understand what foods to eat or not eat?” Most of the time “no” is the answer. It seems arrogant to me to think that we can fabricate all the answers into a drug pill, no need for learning about nature and it’s processes and how to encourage them. Have you learned about side effects? Why does the FDA feel that these are so dangerous that we need an oversight that still allows hundreds of thousands of people to die every year directly caused by the very drugs that you think are so wonderful? Think about it… skeptic.

  9. 9 Gem Newman February 11, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Gem, as a skeptic I would think that you were skeptical of this drug machine backed by the drug companies and politicians. Why are you not?

    Hah! When have I stated that I was not skeptical of the “drug machine backed by drug companies”? That’s an absurd accusation! “Big Pharma” does a lot of bad research (and buries some good research, when it suits them)—that’s one of the reasons that systematic reviews of the medical literature are important. It’s also a good reason that all studies should be registered before they are performed.

    Being skeptical of pseudoscience does not equate to being a shill for “Big Pharma”. You argument is absurd.

    You fault me for backing a natural process over a synthetic process? What is wrong with leaning toward a natural process?

    My point is not that you shouldn’t rely on natural processes or compounds; my point is that whether a process or compound is natural is not relevant when considering if it is safe or effective.

    I am a more rounded skeptic than you. In the spirit of being a skeptic, you fall short.

    Congratulations. I’m glad that you’re not selling yourself short.

    I’m not interested in wasting my time on Weils’ book for the same reason that I’m not interesting in wasting my time on the works of Deepak Chopra. There are thousands of works of quackery written by legitimate medical doctors: more than I could ever possibly read. My time is limited, and I will engage it in pursuits that seem most likely to be fruitful.

    Even the Mayo Clinic is made up of Drs like Weil. Who oversees the reports that they produce? Even they have been wrong before. So if I had provided you a link, you can still use the same logic of “Books (the internet) are not peer reviewed, and anyone can make just about any claim in a book (or internet) without fear of censure”. Even Wikipedia is wrong sometimes. I don’t believe that I could satisfy you.

    Link me to a Lancet article. Link me to PubMed. Link me to a Cochraine or similar systematic review. No one article or study will be perfect, of course, but science is about building a consensus and narrowing in on what is probably true. I want evidence, not opinion. If you don’t have evidence, fine. Let’s do the research.

    Anyway, exercise starts a free radical process. This process starts the “intracellular killing”. It’s not really that simple, there are plenty of processes to know about to fully understand this. Biology is not an easy science.

    So, when I ask for clarification, you don’t supply me with any of the additional information that I requested. You claim that biology is not an easy science. Sure. I’m not a biologist, and there are plenty of things that I don’t understand about biology. Unfortunately, you have given me no reason to believe that you understand much about biology either.

    So in the spirit of being a skeptic, spread the love man, quit kissing the drug companies ass… Be skeptical of what our government tells us.

    Could you please demonstrate where I am being “unskeptical” of drug companies or the government? I try to maintain a healthy skepticism with regard to all claims, but claims made by an anonymous former proprietor of a nutrition supplement store do not carry the same weight as those expressed in peer reviewed medical literature.

    If it works, I’m interested. I don’t care whether it’s natural or not. But you need to demonstrate that it works.

  10. 10 Richelle February 12, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    There are so many things wrong with Soothsaber’s initial post I don’t even know where to begin.

    [b]“It starts a free-radical reaction…”[/b]
    [a href=http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/R/ROS.html]First of all, free-radicals are highly reactive and don’t need something to start a reaction.[/a] They have a very, very short lifespan, hence the danger. More accurately, you should say that free radicals are generated. Secondly, your body does not need help producing free radicals. Our normal cellular processes accomplish this, by accident, all the time. Oxidative phosphorylation, the process in our mitochondria which produces energy, results in the creation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), aka oxygen free radicals. ROS are toxic to the cell, causing DNA damage (cancer), blood vessel dysfunction (heart disease and stroke), and destroying lipids and proteins (damaging the cell’s ability to respond to the environment).

    [b]“…that can assist your immune system in eliminating the foreign substance from your body”[/b]
    Free radicals are generally a bad thing. Too many free radicals kill the cell. That’s why anti-oxidants have gained so much in popularity (though their effects in clinical trials have been limited). The ROS created by exercise are a completely different kind of beast than the ROS generated in the process of killing infectious agents. The “good” ROS are compartmentalized within an immune cell, generated by enzymes specifically for that purpose. You seem to be assuming that the reason we get sick is not because the immune cells cannot find all of the pathogens to kill them, but because there is some sort of ROS deficit going on in our immune cells. This is clearly not the case, as if the pathogen has been consume by an immune cell, even if it is not immediately killed, cannot be acting as an infectious agent. It’s as good as dead (barring some notable exceptions like the HIV virus and intracellular bacteria like the Chlamydia genus).

    Exercise causes free radicals?
    [a href=http://content.karger.com/ProdukteDB/produkte.asp?Doi=46880]Only if you’re doing it for a long period of time.[/a] And it destroys the mitochondria which kills the cells. The muscle cells. The ones that have nothing to do with infection. So, there’s that.

    [b]Vitamin C is for the PREVENTION of sickness, not a cure for it. Probiotics help prevent a (bad) bacteria infection, not for stopping it after it has happened/ [/b]
    What? Vitamin C is not a probiotic. The World Health Organization defines a probiotic as “Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. Probiotics can be beneficial against intestinal disease by populating the gut so there aren’t nutrients available for a pathogenic bacterial species to grow. They would have no effect on a virus like the cold or flu. And they would have no effect against a respiratory pathogen. I am so confused about this statement that I don’t even know how to fully respond to it. Plus, [a href=http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.proxy1.lib.umanitoba.ca/pubmed/18813862]Vitamin C has been shown to prevent virus infection even without the immune system present, so even the premise you’re trying to support is wrong.[/a] I’d also like to point out that Vitamin C is an ANTI-oxidant… so which do you want, more or less ROS?

  11. 11 Richelle February 12, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Crap, wrong formatting. Trying that again.

    There are so many things wrong with Soothsaber’s initial post I don’t even know where to begin.

    “It starts a free-radical reaction…”
    First of all, free-radicals are highly reactive and don’t need something to start a reaction. They have a very, very short lifespan, hence the danger. More accurately, you should say that free radicals are generated. Secondly, your body does not need help producing free radicals. Our normal cellular processes accomplish this, by accident, all the time. Oxidative phosphorylation, the process in our mitochondria which produces energy, results in the creation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), aka oxygen free radicals. ROS are toxic to the cell, causing DNA damage (cancer), blood vessel dysfunction (heart disease and stroke), and destroying lipids and proteins (damaging the cell’s ability to respond to the environment).

    “…that can assist your immune system in eliminating the foreign substance from your body”
    Free radicals are generally a bad thing. Too many free radicals kill the cell. That’s why anti-oxidants have gained so much in popularity (though their effects in clinical trials have been limited). The ROS created by exercise are a completely different kind of beast than the ROS generated in the process of killing infectious agents. The “good” ROS are compartmentalized within an immune cell, generated by enzymes specifically for that purpose. You seem to be assuming that the reason we get sick is not because the immune cells cannot find all of the pathogens to kill them, but because there is some sort of ROS deficit going on in our immune cells. This is clearly not the case, as if the pathogen has been consume by an immune cell, even if it is not immediately killed, cannot be acting as an infectious agent. It’s as good as dead (barring some notable exceptions like the HIV virus and intracellular bacteria like the Chlamydia genus).

    Exercise creates free radicals.
    Only if you’re doing it for a long period of time. And it destroys the mitochondria which kills the cells. The muscle cells. The ones that have nothing to do with infection. So, there’s that.

    Vitamin C is for the PREVENTION of sickness, not a cure for it. Probiotics help prevent a (bad) bacteria infection, not for stopping it after it has happened/
    What? Vitamin C is not a probiotic. The World Health Organization defines a probiotic as “Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. Probiotics can be beneficial against intestinal disease by populating the gut so there aren’t nutrients available for a pathogenic bacterial species to grow. They would have no effect on a virus like the cold or flu. And they would have no effect against a respiratory pathogen. I am so confused about this statement that I don’t even know how to fully respond to it. Plus, Vitamin C has been shown to prevent virus infection even without the immune system present, so even the premise you’re trying to support is wrong. I’d also like to point out that Vitamin C is an ANTI-oxidant… so which do you want, more or less ROS?

  12. 12 soothsaber February 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Gem, I’m sorry about bringing up my son. I never wanted to be “that guy”. It seems that we have lots of common ground. We are both skeptics and I respect you for that. We both agree that supplements like vitamins help prevent sickness. Sleep is most important, second to hydrating yourself. I guess we will just have to agree to disagree about the synthetic materials. I am positive that that’s not the only thing we will disagree on.

    The way I see it is take this for example, chlorophyll (what gives plants it’s green color) isn’t just a natural coloring, it has many health benefits as well. “Green #5″ is artificial. Your body doesn’t use it, it only clogs up your intestinal walls where you absorb most of your nutrients. Whether or not it drags on your immune system is another story. I would just rather eat “organic” when I can. I do include many synthetics in my diet. Not on purpose, it’s just our way of life. I also try my best to stick with a high fiber diet to also remove these things. I sometimes buy natural labeled foods. It makes me feel better about what I’m eating.

    Also looking back it did seem that I pegged you blindly with the pro-big-pharm label. Looks like I was on a rant there.

    Richelle, thanks for the information. like I said, it is a difficult science, even for me. I hope your information can help me in the future. I do know what a probiotic is. I take them everyday for that purpose. I didn’t mean for you to take it that probiotics and vitamin C were the same thing. The healthy gut populated with good bacteria will over time build your immunity to better fight viruses also. It’s a domino effect. When I get sick, I’m still going to exercise if I feel like it. I always feel better when I exercise. It works for me.

    Yes, vitamin C has been shown to prevent virus infection, even without the immune system. Another reason why I take C. This does not mean that the immune system has no function. You said, “I am so confused about this statement that I don’t even know how to fully respond to it”. I think you did really well responding to it. Yes, we want to cut down on ROS levels being at a free radical state. But if I had read some information that I interpreted meant that it could help your immune system during a sickness, this would be the one benefit for it.

    I really do appreciate the information from both of you, this is how I grow and learn myself.

    ~Ray

  13. 13 Richelle February 14, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Hi Ray,

    Regarding your original claim, a paper was just recently published detailing a case study in which a teenage boy came down with the seasonal flu, and as soon as he recovered went back to playing basketball. In response, his body started to break down his muscles, resulting in severe pain and kidney failure. Study. Now, this is only a single case, but all of the relevant data seem to oppose your conclusion. The closest I’ve come is that if you regularly exercise, you maintain vaccine-induced resistance to the flu longer, and you get sick less severely. In fact, one notable retrospective study has also shown that a sedentary lifestyles makes you more prone to dying from influenza. Colds, as well, can be prevented by moderate exercise. To me, these studies advocate promoting overall health to prevent illness, not to go run a mile when you feel a bit off.

    In fact, animal data shows that it could even be a really terrible idea. Animals exercised strenuously for three days, and were then were infected with influenza. The exercising mice had worse symptoms, more morbidity, and more mortality.

    All in all, it’s best if you check your sources in published papers. (PubMed is great for anything health-related – avoid Google Scholar unless you know how to sift through commercial, non-peer reviewed crap) A lot of times what happens is someone proposes a legitimate scientific principle (e.g. If you make sedentary people exercise more, you can improve their health and immune status) and turns it into something miraculous (e.g. Buy my book to see how exercise can cure everything!). And most of all, keep asking questions. Why should acute stress help the immune system when it’s already weakened? In what situations could this be true? What is their proposed mechanism? Would it really work? And if you don’t understand the area, ask some independent sources who might.

  14. 14 Global Villager February 16, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    I have to take exception to a popular misconception that I hear all the time and that was brought up here:

    “What is wrong with leaning toward a natural process? It is the processes that keep us alive everyday for millions of years. If we could use these natural processes and learn about the sciences of them, we can use them to our advantage and reduce our dependence on drugs.”

    It is true that we eeked out an existence as a species for thousands of years….living on average between 30-40 years. However, in the last few hundred years our life expectancies have risen to double that number and one of the major reasons for this is te advent of modern medicine and pharmaceuticals. I always find it odd that people are some enamoured with “natural” or “ancient” remedies that evidently had little positive impact on our survival. When I am looking for a cure i’ll side with modern science.

  15. 15 soothsaber February 16, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    Global, I am sorry to hear that you have modern science limited so drastically. Modern science is always uncovering discoveries about nutrition also. I hope you don’t misconstrue my words again, when looking for a cure I will also side with modern (pharmaceutical) science. To prevent a disease (please read my post again) I will side with nutrition.

  16. 16 kevinbbg February 23, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Lindsey:

    Looks like you really started something!!

    I have anecdotal evidence of a cure of some kind. I had what I thought was a cold back when I was 12 but it wouldn’t go away, lasted over a month and was driving me and my mom crazy.

    She took me to the doc, he gave me a shot of B12, and my cold was gone before I got in our car in the parking lot.

    Since then I have tried to duplicate this feat with sublingual B12 with no success.

    I don’t even know for sure that I still had a cold in that childhood incident or why the doc thought giving me a shot was a good thing, so it only adds up to an interesting (I hope) story.


  1. 1 Every Cold and Flu Treatment That Has Been Recommended to me in the Past Two Months (And What the Evidence Says) « The Winnipeg Skeptics Trackback on February 10, 2011 at 6:17 pm

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