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Probiotics Won’t Shorten Your Cold, New Study Suggests — But Here Are 7 Things That Will


As we approach the season when everyone seems to be sick, knowing how to get over a cold faster will be particularly useful. If you’ve ever suffered from a wicked cold, you’ll remember how much it stinks to not be able to breathe out of your nose for a few days. For those who are determined to make their colds shorter, no treatment is too crazy to try — but unfortunately, not every method out thereworks. 

Case in point: probiotics. According to a September 2018 study published in the journal Scientific Reports, probiotics for colds may be as effective as people once thought. Researchers at the University of Virginia were studying whether there was a relationship between nasal and gut microbiomes to severity of cold symptoms. They found that the type and amount of bacteria in a participant’s nose correlated with viral load — aka the amount of cold virus that’s in the body. For example, participants who had higher concentrations of the Staphylococcus bacteria in their nose had more severe nasal symptoms.

The team also tested whether probiotics could shorten the duration of a cold. To do so, researchers gave participants a probiotic to drink and then studied whether it affected the person’s nasal and gut microbiomes. Their conclusion: “It didn’t really dramatically influence the microbiomic pattern of the gut,” according to Ronald B. Turner, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. 

Turner and his team noted that the makeup of a person’s microbiome affects whether someone would have really terrible cold symptoms, so if probiotics can’t alter that microbiome, are they even worth taking for colds? Finding a definitive answer will take more study — but until then, you can follow these seven cold remedies that are approved by the Mayo Clinic for getting over a cold faster.

  1. Keep your body hydrated by drinking lots of liquids. Good old-fashion H2O, clear broth, juice, and warm water with honey and lemon are all good options. You should avoid drinks like soda, coffee, and alcohol.
  2. Get lots of sleep. Now is your excuse to sleep the day away! Your body needs a chance to heal and fight off the virus.
  3. Seek relief for a sore throat. Try a salt water gargles, ice chips, throat lozenges, or hard candies to soothe a scratchy throat. But be careful with young kids: lozenges and candy can be a choking hazard. 
  4. Ease sinus congestion with a nasal spray. Over-the-counter sprays will provide immediate relief, but you should stock up now, before the cold hits, so you don’t have to drive to the drug store when you feel miserable. We recommend Zicam Extreme Congestion Relief ($19.94 for a pack of two, Amazon).
  5. Try a pain reliever. For children until the age of six months, give acetaminophen only; after that, both ibuprofen and acetaminophen are OK.
  6. Heat up your liquids. Warm soups and hot apple juice will alleviate the pain of a sore throat and help loosen up mucus.
  7. Invest in a humidifier. Adding moisture back into the air will also help with congestion. We recommend the Pure Enrichment MistAire Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier ($39.99, Amazon) because it’s big enough for any size bedroom and it’s practically silent, so it won’t keep you up when you’re trying to get that much-needed rest. 

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