Zarbee's Naturals Cough and Cold Remedies

Zarbee's Naturals produces a line of non-drug cough and cold relievers that rely on natural ingredients. These products may be appealing when you want symptom relief but wish to avoid the side effects (and dangers to young children) of typical over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications. In addition, Zarbee's Naturals has a variety of other health-supporting products.

Zarbee's Naturals products do not contain drugs, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, or dyes. Understanding their purpose and how they may work can help you make a good choice for yourself or your child.

Varieties of Zarbee's Cough and Cold Products

Zarbee's Naturals has cough and cold products for adults, children, and infants. These categories as based on product dosages, ingredients, and formulations appropriate for each age group.

Zarbee's Cold/Cough Formulation Babies
(up to 12 mos.)
Children
(1 to 12 years)
Adults
(12 years and up)
Cough Syrup (2 months+)
Saline Nasal Spray
Chest Rub (2 months+) (2 years+)
Lozenges   (5 years+)
Chewables  
Drink Mix    

The Zarbee's products were developed by pediatrician Zak Zarbock, M.D., in response to findings by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2007 that over-the-counter cough and cold medications marketed for children were neither effective nor safe. Because parents still wanted to treat their children's symptoms, he developed non-drug products that were based on honey and other natural ingredients.

In addition to their cough and cold "throat relief" products, Zarbee's Naturals also has lines of immune support products, sinus and respiratory support products, vitamins, and other supplements.

How These Products Work

Typical cough and cold medications use dextromethorphan or diphenhydramine to relieve coughs, and guaifenesin to thin mucus and act as an expectorant.

Zarbee's does not use these ingredients. Instead, their products use honey to relieve cough; other ingredients in certain formulations may help thin mucus or relieve cough as well.

Honey

The use of honey for cough relief is supported by some research. A 2018 review of studies concluded that 2 teaspoons of honey at bedtime works as well as dextromethorphan, is superior to placebo, diphenhydramine, or no treatment, and probably reduces cough duration. A further positive point is that honey produced no side effects in the included studies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults and children over 1 year of age use honey for cough relief.

While honey forms the basis Zarbee's of cough and cold medications for adults and children, this ingredient is dangerous for infants. Bacterial spores found in honey can result in infant botulism.

Agave

Because of the risk of honey for very young children, Zarbee's uses agave as the cough soother in its infant products. As a thick, natural sweetener, it coats the throat as honey does.

The research into using agave as a cough reliever in infants and toddlers shows it is only as effective as a placebo. As such, researchers say that parents should consider the expense of products that contain it versus their possible benefits.

Ivy Leaf

Ivy leaf extract is found in several Zarbee's Naturals products, particularly those labeled "+ Mucus." Ivy leaf is believed to thin mucus (as is done by guaifenesin in many cough and cold products).

There have been a few studies of ivy leaf that show it to be effective. However, a 2011 systematic review found that the studies were poorly designed and controlled, and, therefore, the results could not be confirmed. Ivy leaf paired with thyme might be more effective, according to this review.

Thyme

Extracts of the herb thyme are used in several Zarbee's products. Thyme extracts contain thymol, which has some research evidence of being an anti-spasmodic, which may help with cough.

Elderberry

Several Zarbee's products contain elderberry extract. This provides flavor and color and is high in antioxidants. Zarbee's is careful not to make health claims about elderberry, but it is a popular natural ingredient for relieving cold symptoms.

A 2019 meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials found it showed evidence of relieving upper respiratory symptoms.

Melatonin

Zarbee's Naturals has a line of sleep formulas that include melatonin, the hormone your body produces that promotes sleep. One of their cough and throat relief drinks for adults includes melatonin.

Many traditional nighttime cold formulas contain doxylamine, an antihistamine that also is used for insomnia. There are some research findings that melatonin, too, can reduce the amount of time it takes to get to sleep and increase the total sleep time.

Saline

While they can also be used to address nasal dryness and allergies, Zarbee's saline nasal mist formulas can also be useful in easing congestion due to colds. (The CDC recommends saline nasal spray or nasal drops for relief of cold symptoms.)

Zarbee's saline mists also contain aloe (as a moisturizer) or vitamin C (as an antioxidant).

Warnings and Precautions

Zarbee's Naturals products are marketed as supplements, not medications. Even though honey and herbal ingredients have some minor research evidence behind them, they are not considered to be effective treatments and manufacturers cannot make health claims about them.

As supplements, Zarbee's Naturals products are not tested in the same way as medications and cannot claim to treat, cure, or prevent any illness or disease. The company received a warning letter from the FDA in 2014 cautioning that its labeling and advertising tread too close to making health claims. Such materials have since been revised.

Use in Children

The CDC recommends that children younger than age 4 not be given OTC cough and cold medications as they can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening side effects.

Zarbee's Naturals products do not contain the medications (brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine, doxylamine, guaifenesin, phenylephrine, and pseudoephedrine) targeted in these restrictions, but it is recommended that you check with your child's pediatrician before giving your child any remedy. That's true even for kids over age 4, as severe reactions have been seen in older children as well.

Before you give a little one any type of medication (natural or not), make sure it isn't labeled "for adults." Even if labeled for children, read carefully to ensure it is appropriate for the age of the infant or child. For example, honey must not be given to babies under 1 year old.

Children under age 4 should not be given lozenges due to the risk of choking. Zarbee's only markets lozenges for adults and children age 5 and up.

A Word From Verywell

Cough and cold symptoms will typically resolve within a few days, but it is natural to want to find relief. When using any Zarbee's product or any over-the-counter cough or cold remedy read labels carefully, never give something formulated for adults or children to a baby, and stick to age-based dosage recommendations.

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