Debunking common cold remedies: What works and what doesn’t

Jul 27, 2020
People swear by making chicken soup to help relieve cold symptoms. Source: Getty.

‘Eat citrus fruits’, ‘gargle saltwater’, ‘chew on raw garlic’ — while there’s no cure for the common cold or flu, there’s seemingly no shortage of advice when it comes to easing symptoms. So with the help of Priceline Pharmacist Amy Sabatini, we’ve looked at some of the most common cold and flu remedies to find out what’s effective — and what’s not.

What works

Sabatini reckons vitamin C, echinacea and zinc are fantastic cold and flu remedies as they can “boost your immune system” and help fight off infections.

According to a study published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, echinacea cuts the chances of catching a common cold by 58 per cent and reduces the duration of the common cold by 1.4 days. While another study published in the Cochrane Library, found zinc supplements reduce the severity and duration of illness caused by the common cold.

She says vitamin C can be found in oranges, berries and broccoli, while cereals, red meat and beans are good sources of zinc. Meanwhile, you can pick up echinacea at your nearest grocery store, or if you’re up for the challenge, grow it yourself at home. Research shows the fresher the herb, the more effective the remedy will be.

What doesn’t work

There’s a good chance you’ve heard that biting into a clove of garlic or onion can treat colds, but according to Sabatini, that’s not the case. She says there isn’t much evidence to back up these claims, adding: “If you enjoy eating garlic or onion there’s no harm, but you may want to step up your breath freshener routine!”

And when it comes to gargling salt water to help a soothe a sore throat, eating chicken soup for decongestion relief and eating dark chocolate for a nagging cough, Sabatini says there’s little scientific evidence to back up those claims as well.

“Dark chocolate is an interesting one as there have been studies looking into this, but unfortunately there is not enough evidence,” she explains. “I would love to be able to tell people it works because we all love chocolate! Although, it’s great comfort food when you are feeling down.”

What can’t hurt

People swear by making honey tea to help relieve cold symptoms and for good reason, Sabatini says tea may provide some relief to a sore and inflamed throat, but the scientific evidence is limited. If you have a sore throat, she recommends also taking a lozenge that contains an anaesthetic or an anti-inflammatory to reduce pain.

Another popular one that Sabatini says she is asked about all the time is eating probiotic yoghurt to boost your immune system.

“This is an interesting one as high dose probiotics have been found to boost your immune system, however, the probiotic concentration in yoghurt can vary and most are not concentrated enough to help boost your immune system,” she says, explaining that you may want to think about adding in a probiotic supplement into your daily diet.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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