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Battling a cold may be more mental than physical

July 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
According to new research, battling a cold may be more mental than physical. The placebo, or sugar-pill, effect is a real health effect and in this study, scientists believe it may help you shorten a five-day cold to a three-day one.

To fight a cold, many people will turn to Echinacea, chicken soup, and Vitamin C. Sara Beck of San Marino is a strong believer in all of them.

"Like my mom used to, I make some soup, some chicken soup, and take hot tea with honey. I use Echinacea," she said. "I just feel that it does make me stronger, kind of cuts the cold."

But her beliefs are now being tested. University of Wisconsin researchers gave 700 people with a cold either Echinacea, a sugar pill, or nothing at all.

The results showed the duration of the cold was shorter and less severe in people taking any pill. And those who believed in Echinacea's healing properties the most had their cold symptoms reduced by two and a half days.

"I think most people want a pill, that magic pill that will make the cold go away sooner, and make their symptoms go away," said Dr. Juan Silva, a family practitioner at White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights.

He spends a lot of time convincing sick patients they don't need medication for a cold.

"The belief that it could make a difference made a difference," he said.

The biggest boost to the immune system is your mind.

"I think that some people have beliefs that they eat chicken soup and it makes a difference for them. And if it helps them with the symptoms, by all means," said Dr. Silva.

There may be some science behind chicken soup, doctors say salt is a natural antibiotic and the marrow from chicken bones contain immune boosters. But researchers now know nothing may treat the common cold better than good old fashioned belief.

"I think it's a matter of saying I'm going to be well and I'm going to make myself well. I think our minds are very powerful," said Beck.

Study authors conclude beliefs and feelings about treatments may be important and perhaps should be taken into consideration when making medical decisions.

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