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CNN Today

Which Alternative Cold Medicines Work?

Aired February 20, 2001 - 4:55 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Story of personal importance to me today: winter's drawing to an end. It is not, however, at an end for colds. On the average, Americans get two to six colds a year. While there's still no cure, there are a host of alternative remedies -- at least that offer to be remedies -- out there.

CNN's Rhonda Rowland from our medical unit joins to explain what really works and what doesn't -- and, by the way, this is critically important to me, because just this afternoon, I'm getting something.

RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN MEDICAL UNIT CORRESPONDENT: On the first day of the cold is the time when you would take one of these alternative remedies that we have right here.

Right here, we have zinc and Echinacea preparations. In the United States, we spend $400 million on these -- very popular.

CHEN: OK, which ones work, though?

ROWLAND: OK. Well, this is zinc. First of all, zinc lozenges. And the latest study has shown that they reduce the length of a cold by half. So, say, the cold lasts 10 to 14 days, that would cut it down to five to seven days.

Very dramatic, but we looked, and there have been 10 studies looking at these lozenges. Half have shown that they work, and the other half show they don't work. All right?

CHEN: They don't taste all that great either.

ROWLAND: That's right. That's right.

This one right here -- this is Zicam. This is also another zinc preparation. This came on the market about year ago, and it's a nasal spray. And what the manufacturers say is you get right to the source of where the cold virus goes.

CHEN: Where the sniffer is.

ROWLAND: That's right. And one study done on this particular product, sponsored by the drug company, it was done by an independent researcher, shows that it reduces the length of a cold by 75 percent -- quite dramatic. Now, cold researchers we've talked to said, that's only one study. You really need to do more to ensure that those are believable results.

And right here we have Echinacea products -- very popular again. And one of the noted cold researchers we talked to did a study; found that -- they didn't -- it did not work.

Now, he said it's very difficult to study this product, because these preparations are different. Again, loosely regulated by FDA. So, if you take this product and you take this one, you don't know if you're getting the same thing.

CHEN: All right, is it too late for me to take it if I -- I have already got the symptoms, my throat is sore. Is it too late for me to even try this stuff?

ROWLAND: No, this would be the time that you'd want to take these particular remedies.

CHEN: Is there a point where it is too late?

ROWLAND: Well, once your cold is really underway, if you're into it three, four days, you probably won't get any benefit.

But I want to back up here, something very important to say: we don't know if these really work, or if we have a powerful placebo effect. People believe they work; these are expensive. So then, they may get better as result, and the studies have shown the placebo effect is very, very powerful.

CHEN: Well, we'll test them and see, and see if I'm here for work tomorrow.

Thanks very much, Rhonda Rowland for us.

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