Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Magic Placebo Pills

Whenever I hear about a cure for the common cold, I remember the old explanation that folk remedies will make the cold go away in about seven days, whereas the cold would probably last a whole week without them. Nevertheless, if I have or think I'm getting a cold, I hit it with everything I've got: all the sleep I can sleep for, copious amounts of weak herbal tea laced with raw honey, chicken soup made chunky with raw sliced garlic, gargling salt water, you name it. I'm not allowed cough and cold syrups or anything drug-related, but I'm all over the folk remedy pharmacopoeia.

So when a reader offered me a trial of Cold-EEZE, a non-pharmaceutical product that is supposed to stave off or, failing that, shorten the duration of the common cold I said yes, please. It would be usable in circumstances where chewing on raw garlic is inadvisable and hey, pilots can't resist free stuff. (On that topic, here's a year-old post on pilot cheapness via The Flying Pinto, a witty and frequently-updated flight attendant blog.)

The theory is that zinc ions interfere with the reproduction of the virus, which sounds plausible, thus increasing its efficacy as a placebo, plus I have seen this in places other than on the manufacturer's website, so I suspect it's even true. The trick seems to be getting the zinc into your system in an active yet palatable form.

Cold-EEZE offers a pretty good choice of how to ingest your zinc. There are lozenges, gumballs, chicklet-sized gum and several different flavours. I find that if you have just one, it's tasty, like a piece of candy, but following the directions and having them every few hours all day the underlying metallic medicinal taste becomes more apparent. It's still perfectly palatable and I find that it helps to vary the flavours, so have a green tea one and then a honey-lemon one and then later a cherry one. They should sell a "mixed flavour" pack. (I'm mixing and matching from the various different boxes). I gave a box to a coworker when she and her husband-to-be were both sick with a sore throat, but she reported them too sweet to be palatable, admitting that she was having trouble swallowing anything so it might not be a fair assessment.

I suppose this is a testimonial, but I have no idea whether they work for me or not because I haven't cut back on the other preventative techniques, and who is to say which times when I thought I might be coming down with a cold but didn't, the Cold-EEZE thwarted the rhinovirus? There's no 'control Aviatrix' out there NOT taking the remedies for me to check up and see if she gets more colds than me. I haven't ever had to beg off work because I was sick or congested, and I don't eat garlic when I'm in close contact with other people, so they're probably helping. I call them my magic placebo pills.

Oh and e-mail just arrived continuing the theme of free stuff: Leading Edge Aviation at the airport in Ogden, Utah has free hot dogs at 5 p.m. on the first Friday of every month. I got on their mailing list by buying fuel, and it makes me laugh every time they e-mail me to invite me, so I have never asked them to take me off.


dpierce said...

My buddy swears by zinc tablets. Of course, he also reports that he thinks he's "coming down with something" about twice a month.

Speaking of cheap bastards, the same buddy likes to sponge aspirin off flight attendants.

The Flying Pinto said...

Ok, I swear to God, you have to take Zicam at the very first sign of a cold! Whenever I would get a cold it would be so severe and take me 2 weeks...yes 2 weeks to get over it. With zicam, it cut the duration in half, both time and severity wise. The stuff is a miracle and I'm pretty sure homeopathic...they first came out with nasal spray which is not my thing but they also have lozengers, and nose swabs etc. now.

and hey, thank you so much for the compliment: )

Ward said...

What about the classic cold cure, Vitamin C? When I feel a cold coming, I take a few grams a day, mostly by mixing pure Ascorbic Acid crystals in orange juice. Placebo or not, I'm convinced it helps me.

Scoon said...

I didn't hear this from a doctor, so I can't guarantee that it's true, but I've heard that the trick with zinc is that when it tastes really bad (worse than usual) it means that your body has had enough zinc.

Jim Mantle said...

And add 2,000 IU of Vitamin D to your list. I have no idea if it helps in the prevention of colds or any other form of virii, however, it is coming to light as an essential vitamin that most North Americans do not generate enough of.

The majority of vitamin D is generated by the body through exposure to sunlight. The further north you live the more deficient you are, especially Canadians in the winter. And in the summer we lay on the #35 or #50, so we are vitamin D deficient in the summer as well.

As for cold protection - I haven't been sick yet this winter, despite a flurry of colds going through my house, and despite living on airplanes (in the back with The Flying Pinto and all the germ/virii-carriers, not in the front seats).

Anonymous said...

What works for me when I have a cold (which is rarely) is 2g (yes, grams) of Vitamin C every 3 hours. It works better than antihistamine to control a runny nose and congestion. I use the "natural" C-complex, not generic ascorbic acid. Be warned that so much C is a diuretic and may cause intestinal upset if you are not used to it, so creep up on the dosage.

Paul said...

Pilots are so limited in what we can take when we get a cold. I find Cold-EEZE helps and doesn't create a bigger safety problem.

I can't mention the competition, but it's it's the right type of zinc in your nose that shortens the cold. You have to get the zinc ions to coat the mucosa for this to work. Take at the first sign of a cold for it to help. Take one a day if people have colds around you to help from keeping a cold. This has been clinically proven.

Disclaimer - I'm the person who gave our favorite author the Cold-EEZE.


Callsign Echo said...

At the first sign of sniffles, take Advil Cold & Sinus, eat chicken soup and gargle listerine every night.

I SWEAR it works.

cyyz-me-kbuf said...

If you were in Ontario, you could get the annual flu shot for free. It has worked for me for the last six years. I don't get sick.

Nasal congestion is immediately cleared by eating very spicey hot (Buffalo NY) chicken wings.

Longer lasting relief from nasal congestion is achieved through the use of a saline nasal mist, about $2 for a generic brand.

Eat 2 or 3 oranges a day to upgrade your vitamin C levels.

Apparently 1 orange provides your daily requirement so imagine what 2 or 3 can do.

Sore throat can be controlled with peppermint candies.

Persistent cough is stopped with a tablespoon or two of honey...any kind of honey.

And of course, an apple a day to keep the doctor away.

Grant C. said...

@Jim Mantle re "vit" D:

There's much more to the "D" story that isn't getting popular press. It's not a vitamin but a precursor to a powerful hormone: 1,25 DihydroxyvitaminD3. This hormone is not being measured in tests that publish results saying we "don't get enough." There is significant evidence showing that in many people the low level of the precursor these tests measure, is caused by chronic "auto-immune" diseases, and meanwhile the actual hormone level can be significantly elevated, which actually exacerbates the chronic illness.

Like flying it's much more complicated than "pull back to go up." Seeing as so much of our food is already laced with this hormone, do most of us really need more?

Something doesn't add up imho...

click here for more...

Anonymous said...

Seconded on the virtues of a flu shot. Theoretically it's not supposed to protect against the common cold but the practice seems to be a bit different.

The worst cold I've had on the years when I've had a flu shot has been nothing more than a few days worth of sniffles. On years when I haven't had a flu shot, my usual rate is four or five week long colds a year.


Sarah said...

Best medicine by far is the mind, that very effective medicine, "placebo".

Advil? Maybe. Ibuprophin + Epinephrine The I admit my last resort is Nyquil, which is acetaminophen + epinephrine + alcohol. I just saw an ad for it featuring flight attendants .... yeah, I don't think so. It will knock you out for 24 hours.

I've had good luck avoiding colds with hand-washing, avoiding sneezes, staying well rested... and a flu shot last fall. So far so good. Nothing but sniffles so far this season and no congestion worth grounding over.