Old Fashioned Cold
Remedies by Steve Edwards
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Got a Cold? Consider
Giving Grandma a Call. Science shows that many "old wives' tales" actually
During the cold season, your friends, neighbors,
and coworkers will have no shortage of supposed cures. Most of these will begin
with the words "Grandma used to say . . ." Here's a rundown of what
science has to say about those oh-so-anecdotal remedies.
- Chicken soup. The number-one icon of cold
relievers, this one's been utilized on practically every Cold War TV show from
Leave It to Beaver to Bonanza. And you know what? They were all
Research published in the journal Chest revealed that
this traditional cure-all is the most effective remedy to help you recover from
a cold. Heat is the key, so any soup will work to a degree, as it promotes
airway secretions and has a calming action on inflamed throats. But chicken
soup's combination of fats, spices, and water seems to work best when it comes
to breaking up mucus.
Lab tests have also shown that chicken soup is
medicine - Scientists say they have confirmed what grandmothers have known for
centuries that chicken soup is good for colds. (Read more in "Chicken Soup for
the Cold - Does It Work")
- Hot toddy. When I was a kid, the best thing about
being sick, well, besides being able to watch reruns of I Love Lucy and
Speed Racer all day, was that I got to drink alcohol. A hot toddy's
mixture of piping hot water, whiskey, and lemon can provide a lot of relief.
Alcohol has an anti-inflammatory effect on mucous membranes and can help reduce
fever. And according to Ron Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre at
Cardiff University, "Hot fluid has a demulcent and soothing action . . . those
containing slightly bitter flavors such as lemon and citric acid are
- Feed a
cold; starve a fever. The jury's still out on this one. Dutch researchers
have found that the balance of two chemicals that regulate the immune system
seem to shift markedly when eating and fasting, leading to a theory that eating
less during a cold may shorten its duration. However, most nutritionists would
disagree, because your body needs more nutrients when fighting an illness.
Balancing the two, meaning small and nutrient-dense meals at regular intervals,
is probably the best compromise.
Did your grandmother used to crush garlic and mix it with warm milk? Mine
did, and I was never sold that this vile concoction did anything but scare my
cold out of me. However, some research seems to show that large amounts of
garlic can shorten the duration of a cold. Allicin, an active compound in
garlic, is known to act as a decongestant, and garlic is known to have high
antioxidant properties. So once again, Granny has been proven correct.
- Sweat it
out. This old wives' tale has merit, but not in the traditional manner. I
used to get sent to bed with a hot water bottle inside my pajamas, but this
seems to be the exact opposite of how to induce healthful perspiration. In
fact, exercise is the key, according to Thomas Weidner of Ball State
University. He has shown that light exercise in fresh air can ease a runny
nose, sore throat, or sneezing.
- Vitamin C. My mom, a nutritionist, used to load me
up on vitamin C when I had a cold. This, I believe, she got from Linus Pauling,
a chemist by training who was in reality much more akin to the Professor on
Gilligan's Islandan authority on almost everything. Turns out that
Professor Pauling, who lived to 93 years of age, nailed this one. According to
a large review of clinical research at Helsinki University, regular doses of
vitamin C may cut an adult's cold duration in half and a child's by a day.
steam. Ah, so fondly do I remember my head being shoved under a towel above
a pot of boiling water. Once again, what I thought was nothing other than a
scare tactic has been shown to work. Steam liquefies and loosens mucus,
allowing clearance of the airwaves that can relieve coughs and nasal
- Echinacea, et al. Unless you're Chinese, you
probably didn't grow up with echinacea, astragalus, and all the other
now-popular traditional Asian remedies on the market. Luckily for me, one of my
best friends did. His mom had a cure for just about everything, and we'd sit
around taste testing all sorts of weird-looking plants. I don't know whether or
not the stuff worked, but the year I met him was the same year I stopped
getting a two-week case of bronchitis every winter. Studies have shown varying
effectiveness of most Chinese herbs, but the World Health Organization endorses
echinacea and millions of Chinese have been swearing by it for centuries. And,
hey, I stopped getting sick, too!