Kicking the Common Cold

We’re in the midst of the “common cold” season and if you do catch one, there are some things you can do nutritionally to help shorten the symptoms.


One of zinc’s many functions is helping the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses. There is reliable and relatively consistent data showing zinc is most effective at treating the common cold when taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Zinc lozenges used at the first sign of a cold have been shown to help stop the virus and shorten the illness.

Lozenges containing zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, and, in most trials, zinc acetate have been effective; most other forms of zinc and lozenges flavored with citric acid, tartaric acid, sorbitol, or mannitol have been ineffective.

For the alleviation of cold symptoms, lozenges providing 13 to 25 mg of zinc (as zinc gluconate, zinc gluconate-glycine, or zinc acetate) are used every two hours while awake but only for several days. Remember, the best effect is obtained when lozenges are used at the first sign of a cold.

Vitamin C

Good news! The overall research shows, for most people, taking vitamin C may help shorten the duration of a cold and lessen its severity. On the other hand, taking vitamin C regularly does not reduce the chances of getting the common cold. But don’t take too much. Taking too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps, or kidney stones. Most adults need between 75 and 90 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C per day and shouldn't get more than 2,000 mg.

Nasal Irrigation

Flushing water through your nasal passages using a neti pot may relieve some nasal congestion. What the neti pot does is gently wash away excess mucous, bacteria, pollen, allergens and viruses from the sinuses. There is one main sinus the neti pot can reach, the maxillary sinus, which is on either side of your nose—basically inside the ‘cheek bone.’  When they fill with pus or mucous, it hurts and provides a further haven for more bacteria and viruses as the immune system cannot enter. Nasal irrigation clears that up by washing out the pus and mucous. Then, the immune system's IgA antibodies, which live on the mucous membranes of your nose, once again get back to work.

I previously wrote a blog about how to use a neti pot. Check it out here.

Eucalyptus Steam Inhalation

Eucalyptus oil helps loosen phlegm, so breathing in eucalyptus steam is commonly used by people to help treat nasal congestion and sinus congestion, symptoms very common with bronchitis, coughs, and the flu.

Generally, eucalyptus oil is thought to be anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. Eucalyptus oil also stimulates immune system response. Steam inhalation can be done two to four times a day to relieve symptoms.

Here are some tips for using eucalyptus through steam inhalation:

  • In either a steam room, wet sauna, or hot shower, place five drops of eucalyptus and three drops of lavender on the shower floor or sauna/steam head. Breathe deeply for 2-5 minutes while the steam diffuses the oils.
  • Drop five drops of eucalyptus into a bowl of hot water with a towel over your head.
  • Put a few drops of eucalyptus on a small piece of paper towel (not a tissue). Take a few deep sniffs of it and leave it next to your bed at night or your desk if daytime.

Eucalyptus oil should not be ingested, applied directly to the skin, or used in excess of suggested amounts. Definitely don’t get it in your eyes and wash your hands after handling the paper towel or if you touch the oil.

Hot Tea

Drinking hot tea offers some of the same benefits as chicken soup. Inhaling the steam relieves congestion, while swallowing the fluid soothes the throat and keeps you hydrated. Black and green teas have the added bonus of being loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants, which may fight colds.


Stay hydrated! When you have a cold or respiratory infection, your body makes more mucus and making mucus uses up your body's moisture. Getting extra fluids thins out mucus, making it less sticky, which makes it easier to blow or cough out. Limit drinks with caffeine and alcohol, as they can be dehydrating. Remember to avoid drinking water from plastic bottles. Choose a stainless steel or glass bottle instead.

Some findings show hot liquids may be superior to cold liquids in upper respiratory infections.

Although I can’t promise these natural treatments will positively work for you, it’s certainly worth giving them a try. One thing is sure, get lots of rest.

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Live Superfoods



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Petrus EJ, Lawson KA, Bucci LR, Blum K. Randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled clinical study of the effectiveness of zinc acetate lozenges on common cold symptoms in allergy-tested subjects. Curr Ther Res 1998;59:595-607.

Prasad AS, Fitzgerald JT, Bao B, et al. Duration of symptoms and plasma cytokine levels in patients with the common cold treated with zinc acetate. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Ann Intern Med 2000;133:245-52.

Eby G. Where's the bias? Ann Intern Med 1998;128:75 [letter].

Garland ML, Hagmeyer KO. The role of zinc lozenges in treatment of the common cold. Ann Pharmacolther 1998;32:63-9 [review].

Serafino, A., Vallebona, P.S., Andreola, F., Zonfrillo, M., Mercuri, L., Federici, M., Rasi, G., Garaci, E., and Pierimarchi, P., Stimulatory effect of Eucalyptus essential oil on innate cell-mediated immune response, BMC Immunol. 2008; 9: 17.[5]

Natural Products Foundation: Green Tea.

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