There are three approaches to battling cold and flu: do nothing, take medication or attempt grandma’s home remedies. Doing nothing does not seem to expedite recovery and taking medications seems like a Big Pharma ploy to make more money. That leaves you with grandma’s remedies of chicken soup, echinacea, vitamin C and lots of sweating.
Here is a look at the most common old wives’ tales about cold and flu remedies.
FEED A COLD
A study in the journal Clinical and Diagnostic Laboratory Immunology suggests that feeding a cold actually does have merit. Eating increases the levels of gamma interferon, an immune response in which good cells (called killer T cells) destroy the cells that have been invaded by pathogens. This is a process necessary for ridding the body of infections. Good nutrition — in addition to staying well-hydrated — during a cold may speed up recovery time, not to mention make you feel better during a cold siege.
What should you eat? Raw fruits and vegetables are particularly beneficial because they supply antioxidants, vitamin C, beta-carotene and other carotenoids that help boost the immune system and fight off illness. Foods rich in vitamin C include broccoli, cantaloupe, oranges, peppers, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Beta-carotene and carotenoids are found in orange or yellow fruits, watermelon, asparagus and beets. In addition, eat foods rich in protein and vitamin E, such as almonds, salmon steak, sunflower seeds and peanut butter. Foods rich in the amino acid glutamine may be particularly helpful because glutamine boosts the cell-mediated immune response. Glutamine can be found in milk, meat and nuts.
STARVE A FEVER
The healthfulness of fasting is controversial but research suggests that starving while ill can make recovery more difficult because your body does not have the nutrients it needs to fight off infections. Chances are, if you are running a fever you may not feel like eating so stay hydrated and eat small, nutrient-rich meals throughout the day to keep your strength up. Make sure you also get lots of rest.
SWEAT IT OUT
The danger in sweating it out is dehydration. However, getting your blood circulating is a good idea. Get some fresh air and light exercise, as tolerated, by taking a walk or easy bike ride. Light exercise can circulate your lymphatic fluid and give a boost to your immune system. Avoid plastic sweat suits or extremely hot saunas — you will feel better if you pamper your body rather than putting it through torment. Drink at least 64-ounces of water or other replenishing liquids and be sure to not overdo on the exercise. Too much exercise can actually hamper the immune system, meaning you will get sicker or be sicker for a longer period of time.
Ah, the pantry staple that brings you back to childhood when you could stay home from school with a bad cold. Whether it was your mother’s homemade recipe or straight from a Campbell’s soup can, chicken soup has long-been an accepted remedy for the common cold. But does it work?
According to research in the journal Chest, chicken soup is beneficial during illnesses. The hot vapor from chicken soup promotes airway secretions by increasing the temperature of the airways (and possibly preventing pneumonia). It has a calming effect on inflamed throats, as long as it is not scathing hot. It helps with hydration because of the high liquid content. The protein of the chicken and the nutrients from the vegetables can nourish the immune system. Any hot soup can be beneficial to a cold but the more liquid content, the better. More research is needed to prove if chicken soup is a panacea but having a few bowls while feeling under the weather seems to be ideal comfort food for a cold.
Do you up your OJ intake once a cold hits? Although, vitamin C is a beneficial vitamin that acts as both antioxidant and antihistamine, it has not actually been proven to be the magic bullet against the common cold. However, it can help if your diet is deficient in this important nutrient. But in most cases, it will only shorten the duration of a cold by a day or two. Experts suggest diets rich in fruits and vegetables are the ideal way to meet vitamin C requirements and ward off illness. And in addition to getting enough vitamin C, these diets supply a wide array of other nutrients that are key in promoting good health.
Though popularly used to fight colds, flu and other infections, research suggests this herb does not prevent the cold or flu. Echinacea is believed to stimulate the immune system to help fight infections, but, according to the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine it has proven ineffective in both children or adults. However, the center is continuing research on echinacea’s effectiveness in treating upper respiratory infections.
Eat nutrient-rich foods, drink lots of fluids, stay rested and get some fresh air and light exercise when you are sick. Good advice that both your grandma and science can agree on. And as Ben Franklin so eloquently said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The best way to prevent illness is to keep your immune system tuned up by maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.