Read this before your next winter cold

Cold and cough season is here, and the mainstream has a message for you: Don't even bother!

A new study claims that there's nothing you can do for what's often the worst part of any winter bug: the relentless bone-rattling, body-shaking coughing fits that announce your illness to anyone within earshot.

The new analysis of clinical trials and other studies finds that nothing works.

And since nothing works, you may as well save your money and just deal with the coughs as they come.

Translation: If you get sick, you're stuck.

On the plus side, the report from the American College of Chest Physicians isn't yet another plug for drugs.

In fact, it comes right out and says that cough syrups, decongestants, painkillers, and other common, over-the-counter medications WON'T ease your hacking.

That's a breath of fresh air.

But then the cough report chokes, claiming that natural remedies are just as ineffective.

The best researchers can say is that honey might help some kids, but it won't help adults. And while adults MIGHT get a little relief from zinc lozenges, they say, the evidence is so weak that they can't actually recommend them.

That's a shame -- and a missed opportunity -- because there IS plenty of evidence that natural remedies can help adults and kids alike to overcome coughing and other common cold symptoms.

And you can start with those zinc lozenges.

One reason they may not have been impressed is that the doses used in some studies are too low, and the periods are too short, to see any benefit.

When the Cochrane Collaboration looked at 15 studies on zinc lozenges, it found that they can cut cold symptoms by around a day.

That's not going to knock anyone's socks off, right?

But then the Cochrane crew looked ONLY at studies where people got the right doses at the right time.

The results were nothing to sneeze at: Zinc lozenges cut cold duration from seven days down to four and symptoms (such as the coughing that's the focus of the new study) from five days all the way down to two.

The key with zinc is in finding the right balance, because too much can cause loud gas and explosive diarrhea, a combo that might be much worse than a run-of-the-mill cough.

The best studies show you need about 100 mg a day, so do a little math. If each lozenge has 5 mg, you need about 20 a day (or about one every 45 minutes or so while you're awake) to get all of the benefits without those embarrassing side effects.