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Alternative cold remedies no more effective than conventional ones

As I have noted here before, there’s no good evidence that conventional over-the-counter cough and cold medicines work very well.

Of the main ingredients in these medicines — antihistamines, decongestants, antitussives (cough suppressants) and/or expectorants — only decongestants have been found to be mildly effective. Very mildly effective. A 2007 Cochrane review article, which looked at the best studies on over-the-counter decongestants, found that they were no more than 6 percent better at relieving symptoms — specifically, short-term nasal congestion — than placebos.

That doesn’t mean that alternative treatments for sniffles and sneezes — Echinacea, vitamin C or herbal remedies — are better choices. The Cochrane reviewers (whose studies are generally considered thorough and unbiased) found that they, too, didn’t live up to their claims under the bright light of randomized clinical trials.

And what about homeopathic remedies? In the current “Healthy Skeptic” column in the L.A. Times, science reporter Chris Woolston writes about two popular homeopathic cold remedies and finds that when it comes to solid scientific evidence, both come up short.

In the “bottom line” section of his article, Woolston quotes a professor at the University of Minnesota:

Homeopathy has its share of devoted followers, but the field doesn’t make scientific sense, says William Gleason, an associate professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Most products are so diluted, he says, that there’s “no longer any medicine in the medicine.”
Proponents of homeopathy often claim that heavily diluted solutions contain a “memory” of the active ingredients, but Gleason says that concept is ridiculous. As he explains, every molecule of water in our bodies has been enough other places — oceans, sewers, the bathtubs of ancient Greeks — to make any “memories” hopelessly jumbled.
In a 2010 report, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health, said that the key concepts of homeopathy “are not consistent with the established laws of science.”

You can read the full article here.

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