The average adult gets between two and four colds a year. That's a lot of coughing, congestion, headaches, and runny noses. Some of this suffering is unavoidable — there's no cure for a cold — but that doesn't stop everyone from swearing by one remedy or another: loads of vitamin C, hot tea, a hard run and a long sauna, zinc, a hefty pour of whiskey, a bowl of chicken soup. But what actually stops, prevents, or shortens colds? We talked to a number of experts and pored over the hard science (there are 65 serious studies on vitamin C alone) to get to the bottom of what really works.
First Sign of a Cold
When you feel a sore throat, a runny nose, or a cough coming on, immediately take zinc. This mineral is one of the most intensively studied and proven cold fighters. There's just one catch: You have to take it within the first 24 hours after symptoms start. Aim for 75 milligrams daily, or about six lozenges' worth over the course of a day, says Dr. David Agus, a professor at the University of Southern California and author of 'A Short Guide to a Long Life.' Echinacea has shown promise in shortening the length of a cold, but because it is an herbal supplement, it's not strictly regulated and quality varies widely. Vitamin C, on the other hand, just doesn't work – or at least the evidence that it can prevent or slow a virus is very weak. Less effective are those fizzing citrus supplements: "Vitamin C degrades when it starts to evanesce," says Agus, so you won't get any benefits at all.
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