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Does Oscillococcinum Work for the Cold and Flu?

graphic of a person trying different flu and cold medications to see what works

By Sarah Wilczek PharmD, clinical pharmacist at Network Health

Remedies for treating the cold or flu have been passed down from generation to generation, despite many not being backed by scientific evidence. You may have heard that you should “starve a cold and feed a fever,” but outside of staying hydrated, there is nothing about the adage that is based in modern medicine. Using vitamin C to cure a cold is another myth based on a partial truth, as vitamin C can be good for your immune system as a preventive measure but won’t do anything to cure a cold once you’ve fallen ill.

These remedies may not make your symptoms worse or have any ill effects, but they aren’t likely to help either. On top of that, just because you bought a drug or remedy from a pharmacy doesn’t mean it’s going to cure anything. In fact, there are “no legally marketed over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to prevent or cure the flu,” according to the FDA. Instead, you may find medicines that are meant to relieve cold and flu symptoms.

What Is Oscillococcinum and What Is in It?

Lines between cures and remedies can get blurry, and even drugs that claim to relieve flu-like symptoms may not be as effective as they claim. One product that remains controversial in this way is oscillococcinum.

Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic based on the principle that “like cures like.” The idea is that a substance that causes flu-like symptoms in a healthy person can cure those same symptoms in a sick person. This principal has been medically disproven.

Still, there are people who claim that oscillococcinum does work, and it’s been around for quite some time. The name for the product comes from French physician Joseph Roy, who claimed to have observed a bacterium in the blood of flu patients that he named Oscillococcus. The bacteria has not been observed by other researchers, and moreover, the flu is caused by the influenza virus and not bacteria.

[Read more: Why Antibiotics Won’t Do Anything to Help the Flu]

The listed active ingredient in oscillococcinum is Anas barbariae hepatis et cordis extractum 200CK, which is an extract from the heart and liver of wild ducks. The extract is diluted to the extent that there are no molecules from the heart or liver remaining in the final product.

Is Oscillococcinum Effective for Treating the Cold or Flu?

Of course, the key question is whether oscillococcinum works. There are some who have used the product and would say that it has been effective at relieving their symptoms or even curing their flu or cold altogether.

So far, however, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that oscillococcinum is effective in this way. In many cases, oscillococcinum is unlikely to have any adverse side effects or provide any medical benefits, though there have been some reports of severe swelling and headaches from taking oscillococcinum. As a homeopathic, oscillococcinum is not held to the same standards for safety and effectiveness as other medications.

Instead, if you’re seeking treatment for the cold or flu, talk to your personal doctor about treatment options. You may also consider over-the-counter medicines that are effective, such as throat lozenges for soothing sore throats or pain relievers for body aches.

Of course, when it comes to the flu, the best thing is prevention in the form of an annual flu vaccine. If you have a Network Health plan and want to better understand how you are covered regarding vaccinations, please contact us by calling the number on the back of your member ID card.

[Read more: Is the Flu Shot Important for Those Over 60?]

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