Q. Should I try homeopathic cold and flu remedies?

A. Instead of trying such natural cold remedies or flu remedies your money would be better spent on proven remedies. There’s no solid evidence that homeopathy helps with colds and flu, says Chris Hendel, our chief medical researcher. According to published research, homeopathic products are no more effective than a placebo. A recent analysis compared the popular homeopathic nostrum Oscillococcinum (a “medicine” made from a 1 percent solution of wild duck heart and liver extract diluted 200 times) with a placebo. The researchers concluded that taking the remedy over time didn’t prevent the flu. Study subjects taking Oscillococcinum did notice a slight reduction in symptoms by the third day, but there was no difference noted after taking the placebo or the homeopathic remedy at other times.

Some products promoted for cold and flu relief shouldn’t even be called homeopathic because they don’t follow the centuries-old principle of homeopathy. Based on the theory that “like cures like,” homeopathic remedies contain a small dose of a substance that in larger doses can cause symptoms. Examples include Cold-Eeze and Zicam lozenges, which contain the mineral zinc (also not proved to fight colds and the flu).

Instead of spending money on products that are more hype than help, our experts recommend trying to prevent illness by getting a flu shot and being vigilant about washing your hands often. If you do catch a cold or the flu, relieve pain and fever with over-the-counter drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic) or ibuprofen (Advil and generic). Drink plenty of fluids and try to rest. And if you go to your doctor at the first sign of the flu and get prescription antiviral drugs, they may help ease symptoms and shorten the length of the illness. But they must be taken within the first 48 hours.

For related health information check our Vitamins & Supplements page.

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Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.