Friday, January 11, 2008

Amatuer Medical Research

I've been suffering from the plague for the past two weeks; well, maybe not the Plague, but a nasty cold that has hit me rather hard.

Every time I get a cold I end up trying to fight it with a barrage of drugs. There are probably more drugs available to wage war on cold symptoms than just about any other category. Not only do we all get colds (and hate them) but given that colds are caused by viruses there is no way to actually 'cure' a cold - all you can do is treat the symptoms to hold the suffering to a minimum. Since nothing can actually 'cure' a cold there is plenty of room for drugs that make claims about being able to help in various ways. I am generally familiar with the various drugs available and know what they are able to do. Rather than buy one of the many available cocktails of the various drugs I prefer to buy the individual drugs and treat my specific symptoms one by one.

Early in the cold when congestion is the main problem I'll stick to just a decongestant. Later, when the aches and pains start to grow I'll go with a pain reliever. The toughest part to treat is the final stage that I've been in for a few days now when the main problem is a nasty hacking cough. The reason this is a tough symptom to treat is that there are no good drugs for treating coughs. There are many options available at the drugstore, but they have all been shown to work about the same as a placebo. If I were willing to visit a physician I suppose I could get a prescription for codeine, which is somewhat effective, but by the time I get seen the cold is likely to have run its course. So, with a cough that seems to get worse later in the day, just when it can have the maximum impact on my ability to get a good night's sleep, I've been doing some experimenting on myself to see if there is any way to get some relief. I am not sure if I have found anything that works very well, but I've at least found a treatment that shows promise.

On the first night I tried a widely accepted cough suppressant drug, and did not see any apparent relief. On the second night I combined that drug with a sedating antihistamine, since the sedating effect would be welcome, and there is some belief that the sedation helps the cough suppressant do its thing. No luck. I was no more able to sleep, but I was so drowsy that I couldn't do much else. One the third night I did some 'research' on the internet and found that most research does agree that the OTC cough suppressants generally are worthless (no surprise to me), and that various home remedies might do something. So I gave one of those a try and had a big dose of honey mixed in warm water. This treatment may be cheaper than the available drugs, and doesn't require a trip to the drug store, but I didn't see that it worked any better.

So tonight I headed back online for more 'research'. I started with the intention of finding out how well codeine might do in comparison to the various worthless remedies I had tried so far, but I quickly came across a different option entirely - dark chocolate. The National Heart and Lung Institute in London did a small test comparing a compound found in chocolate (theobromine) to codeine and to a placebo to see how it faired in preventing coughs. They found that the theobromine actually did a better job than the codeine did. I've got a supply of dark chocolate in the cupboard, so it was time for more experimenting on myself.

Theobromine is not something that is documented on the packaging of chocolate, so I had to do some guessing about how much chocolate was going to be necessary to get the effects found in the lab. I came up with a guess of two ounces of dark chocolate, and got to work medicating myself. I have no idea how quickly I might see any effects, but I did get the feeling that it may have helped a bit.

I'll have to sleep on it (or try to) and see how the treatment works when it really counts. If nothing else it is a much more appealing treatment that all the others, and given how little those other treatments do, it is unlikely that this will do less.

(Thursday ends...)
(Friday begins...)

So, I paid attention to my coughing after medicating myself, and it did seem to be improved. Plus, I was able to sleep better last night than I had for the previous three. The improvement could be due to the chocolate, or due to my cold fading.

This definitely seems like a treatment that will require further testing. I am already hard at work on tonight's run of the experiment.


wunelle said...

If you determine that chocolate is an effective medicine for the otherwise-incurable cold, you may just have become my Best Friend Forever!

(I almost wish I were sick right now! Almost.)

CyberKitten said...

When I get a cold (maybe once or twice a year) I tend to throw the kitchen sink at it in the hope that something will work. As you found out not a lot does - at least stuff you can buy over the counter.

Maybe next time I'll increase my intake of chocolate & see what happens. I'll let you know how the self-medication goes.... [grin]