Sore throat? OTC cold remedies won’t help and may harm

Catching a cold is definitely a drag. You’re always blowing your nose until it’s so red and raw you can barely stand to touch it with a tissue. The congestion and constant coughing make it tough for you to sleep, which just adds to the fatigue you feel. And your throat is often so sore that even swallowing a sip of water is painful.

These symptoms can make it difficult to function, which is why many of us turn to over-the-counter (OTC) cold remedies to ease the discomfort. But as we’ve noted in earlier issues, certain types of OTC cold medicines can lead to dementia and brain shrinkage. And now, researchers are saying that many of these medications can actually make your cold worse…

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Cold medicines can harm your respiratory cells

Results of a study to determine the effectiveness of a naturally derived OTC cold medicine found that almost all marketed OTC products for cold, cough and sore throat can damage the upper respiratory cells and possibly prolong illness.

Applied Biological Laboratories, a biopharmaceutical company focused on the respiratory disease market, sponsored the study. The company’s researchers were testing the mechanism behind respiratory inflammation and whether it can be effectively treated with its natural cold remedy, Biovanta throat spray.

Sore throat (pharyngitis) is a common symptom of an upper respiratory infection and a leading cause of physician visits and antibiotic prescriptions. However, even though they’re sold to treat sore throat, few if any OTC medications are proven to relieve sore throat inflammation.

The Applied Bio study used human respiratory tissues grown from nasal stem cells and stimulated them with a molecule called bradykinin, one of the body’s first inflammatory signals following an upper respiratory infection. Bradykinin uses Cox enzymes to stimulate more inflammatory molecules, such as prostaglandin.

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Once the mechanisms behind sore throat were clear, the cells were treated with a variety of OTC sore throat medications, as well as aspirin and a formula containing it as an active ingredient.

Perhaps the most shocking result is that of the 20 OTC products tested, all but one showed inflammatory and damaging effects on at least one of the inflammatory measures tested. These cold medicines include widely used ingredients like the cough suppressant dextromethorphan, the expectorant guaifenesin, the pain reliever acetaminophen and the topical anesthetic benzocaine.

By contrast, Biovanta, which contains low-dose aspirin and other natural anti-inflammatory ingredients, reduced inflammation when applied to affected cells and tissues.

Aspirin and the formula containing it also were found to be much more effective than any of the OTC treatments. This could be because aspirin is a well-known Cox inhibitor, although it’s not commonly used to treat upper respiratory inflammation.

However, the effective dosage of aspirin proved to be narrow: 6 mg per dose. Below this dose, the drug didn’t have a significant effect, and above it, aspirin becomes inflammatory. This is far lower than the conventionally available dosages of aspirin; for example, a baby aspirin contains 81 mg.

Applied Bio intends to further demonstrate Biovanta’s effectiveness through a postmarket real-world study.

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Easing a sore throat naturally

Clearly, it’s best to steer clear of OTC cold remedies. But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to suffer until your cold runs its course. There are plenty of natural ways to relieve a sore throat, many of which are inexpensive and easy to obtain.

One of the best remedies for your sore throat is honey. It not only soothes your aching throat, it’s been proven to be significantly more effective at reducing coughing than OTC cold and sinus remedies and antibiotics. Not only that, but studies show honey helps people recover from upper respiratory tract infections faster than these traditional medicines.

You can find honey-based cough syrups that contain other natural cough and cold-relieving ingredients at most natural food stores. Or you can just take a teaspoonful of pure honey on its own, or add it to hot water or tea for a drink that will comfort your throat.

Honey is one of the ingredients in Biovanta, as are menthol and aloe vera, both of which help soothe irritants that can cause sore throat. Biovanta also contains naturally derived acetylsalicylic acid, an organic compound found in many fruits, nuts and vegetables that helps support the body in fighting fever, pain and inflammation.

Other remedies for sore throat include apple cider vinegar, especially when mixed with some lemon juice and honey. Apple cider vinegar also helps boost your immune system, which can help you recover from your cold faster.

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1. Study uncovers major breakthrough in understanding and treating respiratory inflammation — EurekAlert!

2. A novel anti-inflammatory treatment for bradykinin-induced sore throat or pharyngitis — Immunity, Inflammation and Disease

3. Our Ingredient Story — Biovanta

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.