People have suffered the common cold for centuries, and historical remedies range from the banal to the bizarre. The ancient Egyptians' go-to was the milk of a mother who had given birth to a boy. If that didn't work, they had a spell to go with it. And Victorian cookbooks are stuffed with "natural" cures for congestion, like cold beef tea, a hot mustard foot bath, and even a "bacon bandage for the throat."
For hundreds of years we've sniffled, and we're still no closer to finding a cure. The good news is, we no longer have to bet on hocus pocus and borax mouthwash (an Edwardian special!) for relief. Here's a roundup of 17 cold remedies of immune-boosting foods scientifically proven to ease the sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, and fever.
Lots of studies have been done to gauge the effect of zinc on cold symptoms, with varying results. In fact, a systematic review published in The Cochrane Library was withdrawn after concerns about the data. But a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that taking zinc "may shorten the duration of symptoms of the common cold."
Dana Corriel, MD and an internist, recommends taking a zinc supplement as soon as you notice symptoms of a cold to stave off getting full-blown sick. To get your zinc fill, toss back a couple of oysters; they're the best natural source of zinc. You'll get 74 milligrams, or about what you'll find in 6 lozenges, in just 3 ounces.
Mom was right: chicken soup really is one of the best cold remedies. According to a study in American Journal of Therapeutics, chicken soup's medicinal power may be attributed to carnosine, a compound found in chicken breast and real chicken broth, that helps the body's immune system combat flu-like symptoms by inhibiting the release of inflammatory nitric oxide cells. The downside is the soothing benefits end as soon as the soup passes through the digestive tract, so you'll have to hope mom made a large batch.
Another double-blind study also suggests that chicken soup has more than just a placebo effect. Researchers looked at how chicken soup affected airflow and nasal mucus among patients who drank cold water, hot water, or chicken soup. Both hot fluids helped relieve stuffy noses, but chicken soup did a better job.
More commonly known as kiwifruit, the Chinese Gooseberry—a nickname given to the native Chinese fruit by New Zealanders—is also one of nature's most powerful cold remedies. Research in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests snacking on nutrient-dense kiwifruit can help relieve cold symptoms, and even shorten illness. The study took 132 adults and placed half on a daily diet that included 4 gold kiwifruit, while the other half supplemented their diets with two bananas each day. The result? The kiwi eaters had sore throats resolve three days sooner—and head congestion resolved almost four days sooner—as compared to the banana group. Researchers attribute the results to micronutrients in gold kiwifruit that significantly enhanced the concentration of immunity-boosting erythrocytes in red blood cells.
What better group to test the effectiveness of a cold remedy than 200 sleep-deprived, stressed-out college kids living in cramped quarters? A study in the British Journal of Nutrition did exactly that. Researchers assessed how a 12-week course of probiotic supplementation affected the duration and severity of cold symptoms among 198 students, as well as the impact of symptoms on their daily lives. The results were impressive: Students who took the "good bacteria" recovered two days faster than the placebo group, had symptoms that were 34 percent less severe, and missed half as many school days (15 vs. 34 missed by students taking the placebo).
Researchers say probiotic microorganisms may help by softening the body's inflammatory response—which you experience as nasty cold symptoms. Yogurt is the most commonly widely available probiotic food. Look for brands with "live and active cultures" and strains from lactobacillus or bifidobacterium species clearly printed on the label.
Almonds and almond skins
A handful of almonds is both preventative and therapeutic for the common cold, but you have to eat them whole. A study in the journal Microbiology Letters found that polyphenols—disease-fighting compounds found in the skin of the almond—can increase the sensitivity of white blood cells known as helper T cells, which are involved in fighting off viruses. And, like a natural vaccine of sorts, the immunity boost lingered even after the almonds had been digested in the gut, researchers say. Interestingly, blanched almonds without skins had little effect on the immune system.
A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down, but it's even better if a spoonful of sugar IS the medicine. Researchers say honey may be the best natural cure for a hacking nighttime cough. A study in the journal Pediatrics found that children who ate 2 teaspoons of honey 30 minutes before bedtime raw reduced frequency and severity of their nighttime coughing and an overall better night's sleep than those who didn't take the honey.
Adults may want to add a drizzle to hot water; researchers have found hot liquids to be superior in relieving upper respiratory tract infections. As for that lemon-honey concoction often touted as a cure, well, the science just isn't there. There aren't any studies to suggest lemon, specifically, can help. And, brace yourselves: a recent review of 72 studies found no significant effect of vitamin C (the major nutritional benefit of citrus) supplementation on colds.
Interestingly, a double-blind study by Iranian researchers found a combination of honey and coffee to be more effective than a steroid medication and a placebo at relieving symptoms among adults who had suffered a persistent cough for three weeks.
There's now science to back-up the smelly, cold-busting benefits of garlic. In one study published in The Cochrane Library, adults who received a placebo came down with nearly three times as many colds as those who selected a daily garlic supplement. Moreover, the placebo group suffered with colds three times longer, reporting more than three times more sick days than the garlic group. Researchers hypothesize garlic's cold-fighting power comes from the compound allicin, which blocks enzymes that play a role in bacterial and viral infections.
Another double-blind study found daily supplementation of aged garlic extract may enhance immune cell function. Participants who took 2.56 grams daily for 45 days experienced a reduced severity of cold symptoms by 20 percent and recovered 61 percent faster than the placebo group. You can find aged garlic extract at most health food or drugstores, and the good news is it's odorless. Garlic is also an anti-inflammatory food to help fight inflammation and ward off chronic illness.
One of the worst parts of a cold is the effect that it has on your sinuses. There's nothing worse than the feeling that you can't breathe through your nose. According to Dr. Kyle Bressler, MD, and an ENT, chili peppers contain capsaicin, an active component that can help to clear out your sinuses quickly by thinning the buildup of mucus. So getting your hands on the spiciest food possible can be the key to your cold symptom relief.
When we think of cold relief, the last thing we would think to eat is thick, creamy oatmeal. Despite those qualities, though, oatmeal also contains beta-glucan, which stimulates the immune system and makes it one of the best cold remedies. Dr. Bressler notes that getting those oats in when you're starting to feel sick can help to quicken the recovery process. In addition to the beta-glucan, oats contain zinc and selenium, which also work to fight infection.
It's an age-old saying that fluids help with congestion and other cold symptoms, but coconut water specifically is a great option for cold remedies and something you should try for relief. Not only is it great for hydration, as all fluids are, but Dr. Bressler says it contains natural electrolytes, which help to heal your body. It's such an easy thing to try, no cooking or preparing involved. Just pick it up from your local grocery store and give it a shot.
This food remedy doesn't even require you to consume ginger to start feeling relief. Of course, that is always the best option to get the benefit of clearing congestion that ginger provides. However, you can also just create a ginger compress by soaking a washcloth in ginger water before applying it to your face.
Kale is a superfood full of nutrients, so it's no surprise that with all its talents, it also contains quercetin, which is believed to have antiviral properties. So when mom always said eat your vegetables, she definitely wasn't wrong.
It's an age-old trick: have a glass of orange juice when you're sick. It's the vitamin C that helps to both lessen the symptoms of a cold as well as quicken the recovery process. According to Dr. Bressler, it's definitely not just a myth, oranges are the way to go as well as lemons and limes, which also contain vitamin C.
When you're sick, the last thing you usually want to do is eat a full-fledged meal, but if you do happen to have an appetite, salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids that work to reduce inflammation caused by a common cold. The inflammation slows down the immune system, so by eating salmon you can speed up the recovery process of the cold.
Not only are carrots great for your eyes, but Dr. Bressler emphasized that the vitamin A also strengthens immune function, which is essential to fighting off illness. Even though the best way to get all the nutrients from carrots is by eating them raw, try one of these unique carrot recipes to start feeling better as soon as possible.
According to Dr. Bressler, blueberries are among the highest in antioxidants in fruit. One important purpose of antioxidants is they contain flavonoids, which work to reduce damage to cells and also boost the immune system, both of which are necessary when you're suffering from a cold. They're an easy snack to munch on between hot showers and lots of rest.
Strawberries contain anthocyanins, which not only give this fruit its amazing red color, but they also contain properties that offer anti-inflammatory and antiviral benefits. If you feel a cold coming on, strawberries are definitely the way to go to start to fight it. We always knew there was another reason besides their unbelievable taste to love this fruit.
Colds are the absolute worst. When you're lying in bed stuffed up, you can feel completely helpless. Hopefully, now you can give these natural cold remedies next time they hit.