Which natural cold remedies actually work?
Vitamin C, garlic, honey, lemon and ginger tea and even a whisky nightcap are all said to 'cure' a common cold – but what's the best way to soothe symptoms?
When it comes to the common cold, prevention is better than cure. While it's no guarantee that you won't succumb to a sore throat, eating plenty of fruit and veg will ensure you're getting the protective nutrients to support the natural function of the immune system. You can give your body a further helping hand by topping up levels of vitamin E (oily fish, avocados, brazil nuts), zinc (wholewheat, oats, soya) and B vitamins (lean red meat, dairy, lentils) and eating a varied, balanced diet.
What do you do, however, if despite your best efforts, you still end up feeling under the weather? If you're loath to reach for the cough sweets and prefer a completely natural approach to banishing bugs, then read on for some of our favourite cold-quashing old wives' tales – some of which are more on-the-mark than you may expect.
Will vitamin C help get rid of a cold?
Old wives' tale: Eating lots of vitamin C will cure a cold fast.
The facts: Vitamin C has often been cited as a good precaution against catching the common cold. However, studies sugget that its value is most relevant for people exposed to brief periods of intense physical stress such as marathon runners or those living in very cold environments. Many fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin C, however, there is some evidence to suggest that a diet with too many calories and refined sugar can impair the immune system. Therefore, if you tend to reach for the orange juice to help you feel better, it's best to buy 100% (unsweetened) orange juice or blend your own.
Read more about essential vitamins and what they do and the health benefits of oranges.
Will honey, lemon and ginger help get rid of a cold?
Old wives' tale: Hot drinks with lots of honey, lemon and ginger will soothe a sore throat.
The facts: For those of us keen to keep our cold cures natural and delicious, a hot drink containing honey, lemon and ginger has to be top of the list. Thankfully there may be more to this than just optimism! Honey is a good throat soother – studies investigating respiratory infections in children with symptoms ranging from a hacking cough and runny nose to fever found that a single night-time dose of honey can have a small, but effective, influence on their cough and help them sleep better. It's important to remember that honey shouldn't be given to children younger than 12 months.
A perfect flavour pairing with honey, lemon is rich in vitamin C and protective bioflavonoids, especially in its skin, so it's worth using the zest. Although there are limited studies to suport its use a cold curer, lemon juice has other anti-bacterial properties. Ginger provides a lovely warming flavour to hot drinks and has been used for medicinal purposes throughout history. Used to soothe a wide array of ailments from nausea to the common cold, fever and sore throats, it's efficacy is all thanks to active compounds, including gingerols.
Read more about the health benefits of ginger and discover whether lemon water is really good for you.
Will garlic help get rid of a cold?
Old wives' tale: Crush garlic into a glass of milk.
The facts: Yes, this really is as disgusting as it sounds and although generally considered quite an old-fashioned remedy, some still swear by it today. Garlic is thought to have anti-microbial properties that may help the immune system fight viral infections and it is packed with antioxidants. However, to date there is limited clinical evidence regarding the effects of garlic on preventing or treating the common cold. That said, one study found that supplementing with an aged garlic extract appeared to enhance immune cell function, which may reduce the severity of cold and flu symptoms. Always see your GP before taking food supplements.
If you want to try garlic as a cold remedy but don't fancy mixing it with milk, try our healthy recipes such as garlicky mushroom penne, herb & garlic pork with ratatouille, herb & garlic baked cod with romesco sauce & spinach or lemon & garlic roast chicken with charred broccoli & sweet potato mash.
Read more about the health benefits of garlic.
Will plenty of rest help get rid of a cold?
Old wives' tale: You should stay in bed for the duration of the cold.
The facts: If you have a fever or are experiencing fatigue, a deep cough or any kind of chest pain then rest, and lots of it, is probably the best option. However, with a common cold, when no fever is present, a little light exercise can actually help to support the immune system.
Don't go too far though. Heavy workouts have been shown to have the opposite effect and can slow down recovery. So enjoy some gentle exercise while keeping energy levels up with low-GI dinners such as crab-stuffed avocados, Italian-style beef stew or sweet potato dhal with curried vegetables.
Read more about what to eat for better sleep and discover how to workout at home.
Will onions help get rid of a cold?
Old wives' tale: Cut an onion in half and put one half in each sock (yes, really!)
The facts: This concept brings a whole new meaning to smelly feet! Many believe onions (and other members of the allium family) have medicinal properties and strangely, some still use this or similar methods today. To avoid the inevitable pong (and strange looks), simply reap the benefits by enjoying the vegetable in a healthy cannellini bean, cherry tomato & red onion salad, packed with three of your five-a-day.
Read more about the health benefits of onions.
Will a nightcap help get rid of a cold?
Old wives' tale: Pour yourself a 'medicinal' drink.
The facts: Whisky or brandy is said by some to, in very small amounts, have a positive effect on grown-up cold sufferers as it is thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect on mucous membranes and help reduce a fever. We're talking a dash of alcohol in a hot drink before bed, which may help to relieve symptoms temporarily, but fresh fruit and veg, comforting chicken soup and warm fruit cordials are always preferable.
The above should not be considered personal medical advice or instruction – if you feel unwell always consult your doctor.
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This article was last reviewed on 31st October 2017 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.
A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).
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