Cures for the common cold tend to fall into the bracket of medical myth and folklore, writes John von Radowitz.
Some people are convinced that hefty doses of vitamin C sort out a cold, though there is no evidence for this.
Others swear by echinacea, zinc and garlic. One of the stranger remedies recommends a few drops of hydrogen peroxide (a toxic substance used to bleach hair and make bombs) in each ear.
Traditional cures for the common cold include products as unlikely as bear oil, goose grease, chicken fat and butter.
The truth is there are a host of viruses that cause the common cold, and no one has founda cure for the condition yet. Now, however, research has backed the claims made for one product that is said to have a real impact on colds.
Multibionta capsules, from Seven Seas, contain a mixture of vitamins and “friendly” bacteria.
Volunteers given the “probiotic” tablet apparently had their colds shortened by about two days when compared with people taking ordinary multivitamins. Their symptoms were also reduced by about 25 per cent.
A team of German scientists tested the two kinds of supplement on 450 healthy adults aged 18 to 67.
Multibionta contains a blend of three different kinds of bugs, Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bifidobacterium longum.
All are classed as “friendly” bacteria that are beneficial to health.
The study was carried out during winter and spring periods in 2000 and 2001 when the risk of cold infections was highest.
Participants suffered a total of 311 cold episodes, which lasted an average of about eight days.
They filled in questionnaires to describe their symptoms, and provided blood samples for immune system tests.
The scientists, led by Michael de Vrese, from the Federal Research Centre of Nutrition and Food in Kiel, wrote in the journal Clinical Nutrition: “The intake of probiotic bacteria significantly shortened common cold episodes by almost two days and reduced the severity of symptoms.”
The researchers suspect the bacteria were enhancing the volunteers’ immune systems.
Previous laboratory studies have suggested that probiotic bacteria strains may have beneficial immune effects.
In the Multibionta group, levels of one kind of immune system cell were boosted significantly.
The impact on cold symptoms was similar to that produced by antiviral drugs givento influenza patients. John Oxford, Professor of Virology at Queen Mary’s College of Medicine and Dentistry in London, said an average adult suffered from three to four colds a year.
That produced a total of around 200 million colds each year in the UK.
“The reduction in the severity of symptoms and the number of days of suffering presents a considerable potential benefit to millions of people who fight the problem all year round,” he said.
Cold and ‘flu-related absenteeism currently stands at 150 million working days each year in the UK, which costs the economy pounds 6.75 billion