A PSA from Herräng Dance CampWith the Northern Hemisphere arrival of summer it’s swing camp season and that means one thing – completely out of sync with the rest of the population it’s swing flu season. And with the swing flu season comes all sorts of remedies to ward off the lergy from Herräng’s anti-cold juice to bottles of military-grade Nyquil. But does any of this actually work?
I’m a science and evidence based policy junkie (which explains my love for the work of Ben Goldacre and also the Youtube Channel Healthcare Triage, who actually have an episode on cold remedies), so I’ve been aware of the Cochrane Collaboration for some time. This non-profit organisation scours the literature and does systematic reviews of all sorts of different medical treatments (including plenty of CAM ones too). Fortunately Cochrane has reviewed the evidence on multiple remedies for the prevention and treatment of colds, flu and flu-like illness. I thought I’d summarise their publications to just get a very brief snapshot of what the evidence actually says.
Firstly let me get this out of the way: This is not medical advice! Making health decisions based on what you saw on some blog on the internet is an incredibly stupid idea. Before you decide to take any medication, supplement or start any sort of regimen you should – talk – to – your – doctor! Ask them about the evidence, or even take along some of the reports from Cochrane.
The one thing that stands out from looking through all these reports is how flimsy the evidence base is in many of these studies. They read like a veritable index of poor trial design, suffering from inadequate blinding, small sample sizes and a host of other issues – and that’s before we even get to issues of publication bias. So even where a small effect was found in the systematic review there’s a reasonable chance it’s no more effective than placebo. In fact the only thing that appears to work well is good hygiene – so wash those hands!
Note also that these are all reports regarding healthy adults. Others examine the evidence base for those with particular conditions or in children.
Once again, in case I wasn’t clear before This is not medical advice! Talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.
I'm a swing dancer, DJ and jazz music nerd living in Pavia, Italy. Once upon a time I was a physics geek so I like to talk about science too. This blog is about that and other musings on politics, philosophy and whatever strikes my fancy. Check me out on the tweets @lindypenguin