Umcka for colds
Jeanine Spielberger, MD, is a resident physician at Banner Good Samaritan in Phoenix. For more information, talk to your doctor, or call Banner Good Samaritan’s Family Medicine Center at (602) 839-4567.
Question: I just came down with a cough and cough syrup isn’t helping much. Are there any natural remedies that might help?
Answer: We all know the feeling. You wake up one morning with a scratchy feeling in the back of your throat and know you’re in for days, maybe weeks, of misery. Respiratory infections are frustrating for doctors and patients alike because there aren’t a whole lot of helpful treatments out there. Interestingly, some of the best evidence for treatment of acute bronchitis is actually an herbal product derived from the root of the South African geranium plant, also known as pelagonium sidoides. In the United States, South African geranium extract is marketed as Umcka Cold Care.
South African geranium extract is widely used for respiratory infections, including bronchitis, sinusitis, pharyngitis, tonsillitis and the common cold. It was first used in Britain in the 1800s to treat tuberculosis (not recommended today). How it works is unknown, but possibilities include increasing the body’s immune response to infection and breaking up mucous.
Research shows that adults and children with acute bronchitis who start taking the South African geranium extract within 48 hours of feeling sick have fewer symptoms after seven days of treatment than those who took a placebo. This included improvement in cough, chest pain with cough, shortness of breath and sputum. It is also shown to help adults get back to work faster; patients treated with the extract were less likely to be “unable to work” after seven days. These studies all started treatment within two days of symptom onset, so we don’t yet know if it would still be effective after that two-day window. Pelagonium sidoides may be effective in alleviating symptoms of acute sinusitis and common cold in adults but there is not conclusive evidence either way.
The most common side effects are gastrointestinal upset and rash. It has not been studied in children under six years old, pregnant or breast-feeding women, so should not be assumed to be safe for these groups. Also, since South African geranium may cause the immune system to become more active, it is not recommended for people with autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. It comes in tablet and liquid form, but the liquid form appears to be more effective. As with all natural products there is no regulation by the Food and Drug Administration.