Yet another study confirmed recently that placebos are as effective as antibiotics when it comes to curing sinus infections. In other words—antibiotics are useless when up against the common cold.

More than useless actually, when you consider the damage done to the beneficial bacteria of your digestive system, Herbal instead of antibioticsnot to mention the added strain on your liver and kidneys, as these organs are involved in the processing and metabolization of most pharmaceuticals.

Any fairly astute middle school science student would have predicted similar results. Why? Because any middle school science student paying attention would know that viruses cause colds, and that antibiotics don’t treat viruses — they kill bacteria. It’s rather like mixing up the ingredients for cornbread and then wondering why it does not cook into an apple pie. You must use the right tool for the job.

So, what is the best way to treat the common cold?

Lots of people ask this question, and billions of dollars of OTC medications sold every year claim to have the answer. I think that Grandma had the right approach: Rest, fluids, and chicken soup (and not that useless watery low-fat variety). But, mostly rest. Time allows your body to do what it naturally has the ability to do; heal.

Do we have some magic Chinese cold cures in our books that span the dynasties? Of course not. Medicine and magic are two very different pursuits. Every culture has looked for the cure to the common cold, and you will find plenty of methods in the Chinese medicinal literature. In fact, the Chinese have elevated this aspect of medicine to an art form. From the perspective of Chinese medicine practitioners, there is not just one kind of “œcold,” but a whole range. You need different medicines to treat the different kinds, and you need to give the right herbs at the right time.

Colds progress and change, and they do so quickly. If you give herbs that are effective for a cold at the beginning stage in the middle stage, they will be useless. Give the herbs that should be used in the middle of a cold at the beginning, and you could make it worse. Chinese painting of stillnessChinese docs say that one of the hardest things to treat is the common cold, as it can manifest in so many different ways and the progression is so fast.

An old family doctor friend used to say, “If you stay home and rest, you should be over that cold in about a week. If you take drugs, it will clear it up in about seven days.” That’s my kind of doctor, one that recognizes there is a time to prescribe a drug and a time not to do so.

All those over-the-counter medications treat the symptoms, but that does not help you get over the cold. In fact, some medications will make it worse. That runny nose of yours? That’s your body’s attempt to get the waste metabolites of the virus out of your system. You don’t want to stop that process. You want that stuff out of your body! That fever you are spiking? That is your body’s brilliant ability to raise its temperature, which in turn will kill off the virus. You need that fever, you want that fever. That fever is going to help you heal, and in time, once the pathogen has been dealt with, your body will naturally return to normal.

Best cure for the common cold? Don’t get one! Washing your hands often, with plenty of soap and warm water, is one way to help you avoid catching someone else’s cold. Also, get out of the habit of touching your face, where cold germs on your hands might settle in your nose or mouth.

If you do get a cold, there are a number of steps to take at the beginning to help ward it off. If you miss that narrow window of opportunity, then follow Grandma’s advice;  rest, fluids, repeat. By all means stay away from any “natural” medication that has a list of ingredients that includes chemical names you cannot pronounce. The snake oil salesmen are as clever now as they ever were.

If you have issues later with the lingering effects of a cold that come and go, but don’t resolve, what should you do? For that we have herbs and acupuncture that can seem like magic.