Fighting the Common Cold

Oct. 25, 2005 — -- A ginseng-based cold remedy called COLD-fX (pronounced cold effects) has taken Canada by storm. A recent study says it can help prevent colds, relieve symptoms once you have a cold and cut down the duration of a cold.

The common cold affects most Americans with 1 billion cases expected this year, and some adults average up to six colds per winter.

ABC Medical Contributor Dr. David Katz, a professor of public health at Yale University, joined "Good Morning America" with a reality check on what this latest herbal weapon against colds really means.

Ending the Sniffles

The Pros of the Study: Katz says the study is well done: double blind, and randomized to weed out bias, but it's important to remember that the study was also paid for by the company that makes COLD-fX, CV Technologies.

The study found that people who took COLD-fX suffered 25 percent fewer colds than people who didn't take it, and that the number of people who caught multiple colds dropped by more than half.

Katz believes the results are encouraging, but that it's impossible to generalize from the study that ginseng or products with ginseng extracts can cure the common cold.

The Cons of the Study: Katz says it's important to note that only 323 adults were involved in the study. Each patient had to take either COLD-fX or a placebo twice a day for four months. He points out that while the results may be encouraging, many people may decide it's simply not worth taking a pill daily -- especially twice daily-- just to make cold season a little less miserable.

Moreover, even though many studies involve unusually high dosages of drugs with the results extrapolated out, there simply isn't enough study on this herbal remedy to know how significant the relief of symptoms and prevention would be if people didn't take the drug every day.

Side Effects: No worrisome side effects showed up in the study. But Katz points out that no research has been conducted on the long-term side effects of taking COLD-fX every day during cold and flu season.

Since it's not clear how COLD-fX works, Katz fears that taking the pills for four to five months every year could overstimulate your immune system, leading to allergic reactions, skin conditions like psoriasis and even inflammation, which leads to increased risk of cancer.

Coming to America?: At this point, the company says it's trying to manage its growth in Canada, and later hopes to make its move into the United States.

The company claims that American visitors to Canada are big fans and that Internet sales are booming.

The medication probably would be subject to federal rules governing "dietary supplements," which means its labeling would be strictly regulated. The standard is that the product cannot claim a disease-specific effect, otherwise it must be safety tested.