A cold is an infection that can bother the nose and throat. It is caused by a virus. Influenza (flu) is a viral infection that may cause problems with breathing. The flu can make you a little sick or very sick. Sometimes it can lead to death.

Both the cold and the flu can cause problems that get in the way of daily tasks. Both are treated with home care and over the counter drugs. But the flu may need prescription drugs. A flu shot can also help stop you from getting the flu. Some people turn to natural therapies to treat health problems and lower the risk of a bacterial infection.

Natural Therapies

Likely Effective

  • Probiotics —may lower the risk of colds. C3, C7, C8, C10, C14
  • Zinc —lozenges (> 75 mg/day) may lower the amount of time you have cold symptoms. (Note: High doses of zinc may be unsafe.) C6, C9, C11, C13, C15

Possibly Effective

  • Andrographis ——herb that may ease common cold symptoms. B1, B3, B5
  • Essential Oil —topical or released in air. May help with sinus congestion and pain. A1, A2, A3
  • Ginseng —herb that may help prevent the common cold and flu. (Note: Ginseng may change your blood sugar and blood pressure.) C2, C4, C12
  • Pelargonium sidoides —herb that may help to ease cold symptoms. C5
  • Vitamin D —may lower the risk of the common cold. E1, E2, E4
  • Vitamin C —may reduce the duration and severity of colds. E3 (Note: Too much vitamin C may be linked to kidney kidney stones.)

May or May Not Be Effective

Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.

Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.

Herbs and Supplements to Be Used With Caution

Talk to your doctor about all herbs or supplements you are taking. Some may cause problems with your treatment plan or health conditions. Some supplements discussed here have certain concerns such as:

  • Ginseng may change blood sugar and blood pressure. Talk to your doctor if you have diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • Too much vitamin C may be linked to kidney stones. Do not take vitamin C with iron supplements. Use care when taking vitamin C and acetaminophen.
  • Zinc in high doses may result in side effects that range from nausea and vomiting to reduced immune function or reduced iron function. Zinc nasal gel may result in loss of smell.

Revision Information