The common cold – we get it 2-4 times a year on average and, although not something that kills us, can knock us sideways for a while. Yet, there’s no cure and what exists to help it, well, isn’t brilliant.

Whether you go for a Cold & Flu capsule or Lemsip the ingredients are usually the same…

  • Vitamin C – I’ll cover this off in a bit
  • Paracetamol – A painkiller to combat any aches that the cold brings with it
  • Decongestant – Help prevent that stuffy nose

For a minute can I talk about that last one? Decongestant in a powdered or tablet form is great but I, personally, would not recommend the nasal sprays. Don’t get me wrong – they work brilliantly and a few years ago, after having a succession of colds, I found them a godsend. Not so much afterwards when I ended up having a spell in hospital as they’d destroyed the lining of my nose and it wouldn’t stop bleeding. The same goes for the nasal sticks as well – please avoid.

What none of this does, though, is reduce the time the cold lasts for but, simply, makes it a bit more bearable. And that’s the thing – there is nothing PROVEN which can do this but there a number of products that is believed – often by many people – to help. The fact that it hasn’t been proven doesn’t mean it’s been disproven either but is often due to a lack of overall evidence.

First of all, echinacea. Like the rest of the recommendations here, there is no conclusive evidence showing that echinacea products treat or prevent the common cold mainly because well-controlled trials are limited and low in quality. There are multiple scientific reviews and meta-analyses on the effects of echinacea, but significant variability of echinacea products used in the studies means that this negates any positive approval of a health benefit.

So, nothing proven but lots of people swear by it and, as just mentioned, the variability of the quality is an issue. I personally always get mine from Boots because I know the quality of their products are much higher than, say, those from the supermarkets – I’ve tried echinacea from both and you can definitely tell a difference.

Next, we have vitamin C. Thought for a long time that this helps with colds as vitamin C helps your immune system – so much so that Lemsip and other cold remedies include it. Except it doesn’t help. It’s analogous to putting more fuel in your car and then expecting it to go faster as a result – vitamin C simply tops up your immune system but doesn’t actually make it any better. With a reasonable diet everyone should have an immune system able to fight a cold so extra vitamin C is not required.

But what about vitamin D? Some recent studies are starting to show that there may indeed be a link between vitamin D and combating a cold.

Now, zinc. There is some evidence, but not enough as yet, to suggest that extra zinc may shorten the length of a cold by one or two days. Like echinacea there’s nothing conclusive but when we currently lack anything to help with a cold then, well, it’s worthy of consideration.

Lastly, let’s talk about what often comes at the end of a cold – a bad cough. Ditch those cough medicines for a start as they’re pretty much useless, as any Doctor will tell you. Most people swear by home remedies, usually involving honey, but if you’re not up to making up concoctions in the middle of the night then a cheap bottle of Glycerin, Honey & Lemon from your local pharmacist or supermarket will do just as well. This coats and soothes the throat.

Personally, when I have a cold, or feel a cold coming on, I take echinacea and multivitamin (including zinc) tablets and have definitely found benefits from it – often a cold will only last a day or two as a result. When that dreaded cough comes at the end I use the glycerin, honey and lemon drinks mentioned previously.

I used to take vitamin C and zinc tablets (yes, I know vitamin C doesn’t do anything, but somebody needs to tell the companies making these tablets – I only bought it for the zinc!). One time, when they were out of stock, I switched to multivitamins instead and have seen a noticeable improvement in my reaction to a cold. I believe this may be the vitamin D supplement that’s included in this.

However, I have one last recommendation. The common cold, for those that don’t know, is a virus that primarily affects the nose. On the market now is a nasal spray (and not the type that damages the lining of the nose, thankfully) – when sniffed multiple times in a day into the nostrils it coats the inside of the nose with an antibacterial chemical. This prevents the cold virus from binding to and entering human cells, reducing viral replication and the associated symptoms. One example is Vicks First Defence nasal spray but others are available too.