Few cold remedies backed with evidence

Avoiding a cold through handwashing may be best strategy during cold season. Otherwise, doctor's advice for rest, fluids, nutrition remains the same since it takes about a week to recover from one of almost 200 cold viruses.

Commercial and herbal remedies claim to help relieve stuffy, runny noses, sneezing and the aches and pains of a cold, but many don't measure up.

At this time of year, doctors' offices swell with people sneezing and coughing from a cold virus that will usually last about a week.

If a cold lasts longer, it's likely because the sufferer has picked up a second or third cold virus. There are about 200 different cold viruses and nearly as many remedies.

Some people go to pharmacies for cough syrups and decongestants, while others head to health food stores.

The medications don't attack a cold virus, they simply mask its symptoms.

"So there may be a little bit of help there, but in the long run what you got is what you got and it's got to run its course," said Dr. Ed Papp, a family physician in Edmonton.

Natural remedies like Echinacea and ginseng are popular, but don't have much scientific proof. They may help, but so will rest and a healthy diet, said Tapan Basu, a professor of nutritional biochemistry at the University of Alberta.

Basu helped to develop Cold FX, a ginseng extract that also won't cure a cold. It's designed to boost the immune system, he said.

"When you have a cold your immune system is down, so you need to take care of your nutrient intakes, but your appetite is gone," said Basu.

Chicken soup may help because it's warm, nutritious and easy on the stomach.

Avoiding a cold altogether by washing your hands frequently is often the best strategy. If that fails, lots of fluid and rest remains a doctor's refrain.