Cold Remedies: Advil or Aleve vs. Safer Alternatives?

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The Cold and Flu season is here. You feel miserable and are looking for relief.

Glancing thru commercials on TV and aisles of cold remedies at a local pharmacy, the medicines you see are combinations of NSAIDs, like Advil, Aleve, or Tylenol with decongestants and antihistamines. They do NOT shorten the illness, but just treat the symptoms temporarily.

Are they safe?

The latest research is very alarming; “Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) used during acute respiratory infections increase the risk for a heart attack 3.4-fold, if taken by mouth and 7.2-fold with parenteral dosing (via an intravenous or intramuscular injection), compared with baseline risk without NSAID use.” [1]

Taking too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can damage the liver and kidneys.

Pseudoephedrine, the old standby found in Sudafed and hundreds of other over-the-counter decongestants, can raise blood pressure, and there have been reports of it contributing to heart attacks, strokes, disturbed heart rhythms, and other cardiovascular problems. [2]

Antihistamines are not that safe either. They can cause low blood pressure with reflex tachycardia (fast heart rate with palpitations), increase eye pressure in patients with glaucoma, contribute to bladder problems in patients with prostate enlargement.

So what are the alternatives?

You need to strengthen your natural defenses, your immune system, so that it can successfully fight the infection, and shorten its duration.

A good old remedy is grandma’s standby: chicken soup. Research in the American Journal of Therapeutics showed that a compound found in chicken soup – carnosine – helps the body’s immune system to fight early stages of the flu. But the authors warned that this benefit ended as soon as the soup was excreted by the body, so that means you may need to have a fairly constant supply. [3]

Probiotics help reduce the duration of a cold, as well as the severity of symptoms. [4]

Vitamin C might reduce the severity, so include sweet potato, peppers, kiwi and citrus fruits in your daily diet. You can also take up to 5000 mg of buffered or liposomal Vitamin C on an empty stomach in divided doses.

Vitamin D2 in high doses (50,000 IU) consumed for 3 days, at the first sign of a cold or flu, will help to boost your immune system. Vitamin D also acts as a natural antibiotic. It works against every type of microbe (viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites). Drink Cod Liver Oil for a natural source of Vitamin D, as well as Vitamins A and K2, which reinforce the effects of each other on the immune system.

Zinc is another immune boosting mineral, that can be taken in its natural form (eating oysters), or simply as a pill or spray, but NOT a lozenge, in a dose of up to 30 mg a day, within 24 hours of first noticing the signs of a cold. It could shorten the cold by 1 day and make it less severe. [5]

Elderberry syrup, or Sambucol, a black elderberry extract, taking 600-1000 mg a day can shorten the duration of flu by about 3 days. [6]

Ginger at high doses can prevent the viruses adhesion to the upper respiratory mucosa and stop the progression of the infection.

Honey, up to 2 ounces a day reduces the length of the common cold by up 2 days, and honey is more effective for coughs than Dextromethorphan (Mucinex, Robitussin, etc.). In combination with lots of hot tea, honey helps patients to feel better faster. (Do NOT put honey in the cup of hot tea, it destroys the beneficial ingredients of honey). [7]

There are multiple immune boosting botanicals:

Echinacea is as effective as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) in the early treatment of clinically diagnosed and virologically confirmed influenza virus infections, with a reduced risk of complications and adverse events. [8]

Astragalus, Cordyceps and Rhodiola mixed together, and sometimes with added Propolis will shorten the duration of the symptoms.

But people with autoimmune problems should not use these immune stimulating herbs.

Other antiviral herbs include:

Lomatium, Red root, Licorice, Isatis, Garlic, Oregano oil, and Proprietary Chinese Herbs formulas .

There is also data on the use of Monolaurin, Colostrum, Lactoferrin, Beta-glucan, Enzymatically modified rice bran, Glutamine, DHEA, Andrographis, Homeopathic combinations, like “Virus” by GUNA, or Occilociccium , and many others.

Of course never forget the most important preventive measures:


For more advice on healthy living and natural approaches to improving and maintaining your health, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Koganski at 215-750-7000 or


[1] Yao-Chun Wen, et al, Acute Respiratory Infection and Use of Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs on Risk of Acute Myocardial Infarction: A Nationwide Case-Crossover Study. J Infect Dis (2/2017).

[2] Serhat Akay, et al. Acute coronary syndrome presenting after pseudoephedrine use and regression with beta-blocker therapy.Can J Cardiol. 2008 Nov; 24.

[3] Babizhayev, Mark A, et al. Management of the Virulent Influenza Virus Infection by Oral Formulation of Non hydrolized Carnosine and Isopeptide of Carnosine Attenuating Proinflammatory Cytokine-Induced Nitric Oxide Production. American Journal of Therapeutics . 19(1):e25-e47, January 2012.

[4] T. J. Smith, et al. Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG® and Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis BB-12® on health-related quality of life in college students affected by upper respiratory infections. British Journal of Nutrition, 2012; 5.5 Tips: Natural Products for the Flu and Colds: What Does the Science Say?. Last accessed on 2/4/2017.

[6] Ulbricht C, et al. An evidence-based systematic review of elderberry and elderflower(Sambucus nigra) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. J Diet Suppl. 2014;11(1):80-120.

[7] Pourahmad M, et al.Effect of Honey on the Common Cold. Archives of Medical Research. Published online:March 09, 2009.

[8] Raus K, et al. Effect of an Echinacea-Based Hot Drink Versus Oseltamivir in Influenza Treatment: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Double-Dummy, Multicenter, Noninferiority Clinical Trial.Curr Ther Res Clin Exp. 2015; 77:66–72.






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