Article by Growandmake Editor Kristina Strain
It happens to us all: a cold. One day, you’re happy and carefree, taking your good health for granted as you breeze through life. Then the dreaded “throat tickle” sets in, and before you know it, your sinuses are mired in mucous. You’re ensconced on the couch, you’re swilling soup. You’re too miserable to move.
What we call the common cold is actually a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. The “cold” itself is typically caused by one of two common viruses. Viral replication begins 8 to 15 hours after initial contact and symptoms usually begin 2 to 5 days after initial infection but occasionally occur in as little as 10 hours. Symptoms peak 2–3 days after symptom onset. The symptoms usually resolve spontaneously in 7 to 10 days, but sometimes last longer.
There are all manner of remedies out there, both natural and chemical, promising to prevent colds, soften colds, shorten colds, and generally get you “back to your old self in no time.” But which claims to believe? Which promises are rooted in fact?
Which cold remedies really work?
While the sad truth is that there is no “cure” for the common cold, there are in fact many things you can do to reduce the impact on your life. By reducing symptoms you can transform seven days of misery into a mere inconvenience. In this article we sort out the myths from the facts regarding what provides relief and conclude with some sound recommendations.
Natural Cold Remedy Myths
Vitamin C. Long-touted as the miracle cure for the common cold, most experts agree Vitamin C won’t help. “The weight of scientific evidence and the well-done studies indicate vitamin C does not prevent colds,” says Jack Gwaltney, M.D. When taken as part of a daily regimen, it can help shorten the duration of colds, by about 14% in kids and 8% in adults. Far from a “miracle cure.”
Zinc. There’s a lot of hype surrounding zinc, but apparently these claims aren’t backed by much in the way of hard evidence. The only thing zinc really succeeds in doing is making the proteins that viruses like to munch on unavailable in the body. Though it sounds good in theory, most doctors conclude that zinc lozenges are useless.
Chicken Soup. Chicken soup’s magic may be more psychosomatic than anything else. The hot broth soothes a sore throat, the steam can help de-congest, the nutrients and electrolytes make you feel better. Unfortunately, there’s no hard evidence to suggest that soup helps with either preventing colds or making their duration shorter. In the end, it may be the tacit connection to home– your mom, her kitchen, feelings of nurturing comfort– that are tied to chicken soup’s purported positive effects.
Echinacea. The science surrounding this remedy is conflicting at best. Some studies confirm echinacea’s healthful profile, some refute it. This one may fall into the same category as the chicken soup– hot tea tastes good, it feels good going down, it helps ease the chills that sometimes come with a cold. But it isn’t a cure.
Natural Home Cold Remedies That Work
Stay Rested. When I come down with a cold, I take it as a sign to make myself a priority. A cold is like a wake-up call, saying, “Hey, treat me right!” One of the easiest ways to do this is by getting a good night’s sleep.
Sleep With Two Pillows. When congested, propping yourself up on an extra pillow will elevate your head, helping your sinuses drain.
Blow Your Nose Often. When done gently, blowing your nose can help clear congestion. Always remember to wash your hands afterward.
Cut Back on Alcohol. I’ve found that, when I’m sick, just one little drink can make the difference between an average day and an awful, rotten no-good very bad day. I always wake up the next day, parched and regretful, wishing I hadn’t partaken. Though the urge for a diversion is tempting, it’s best to wait until after your symptoms are gone before having that drink.
Drink Hot Liquids. This goes back to what I wrote about Echinacea. Hot liquids of any kind are soothing and comforting. They may help ease congestion, and, taken with honey, soothe a sore throat. Brew some tea and relax.
Breathe Some Steam. Another small benefit of drinking tea: the steam. Keeping respiratory passages moist is important– both for preventing colds and for making them more bearable when you do get one. Take a hot shower or bath, or– for a more eco-friendly alternative– hold your face over a small bowl of hot water with a towel over your head. Breathe deeply. Steam is a great natural expectorant, too.
Above all, Treat Yourself Right! A cold is your ticket out of extraneous obligations, your chance to re-align your priorities and even spoil yourself a little. Run a hot bath, brew some tea, and go to bed early. Even keep your germs to yourself by calling in sick to work. Your co-workers will thank you!
Best Natural Decongestants
Onions. Anyone who’s ever cut into a fresh, juicy onion knows they can make you cry. But aside from making you sentimental, onions are also an excellent decongestant. Try eating them raw for maximum effect. I’ve also heard of people mixing chopped raw onions with honey to keep in the fridge, and eating a spoonful every time they needed to clear their head, but I’m not sure I’d recommend that.
Spicy foods. Whether it’s salsa, Tabasco, or wasabi, anything spicy will have a beneficial effect on your clogged sinuses. I always embrace a cold as my excuse to eat Mexican– nothing’s better, or more delicious, for a head cold. Also, consider going out for sushi with extra wasabi and a bowl of miso soup, which can help clear your head.
Salt Water. Everyone’s seen nasal sprays to relieve congestion in the drug store. Did you know that most nasal sprays are basically salt water? It’s super easy to make your own by adding 1 1/2 tsp of salt to a cup of warm water. Let the salt dissolve, and store the mixture in a small, clean spray bottle. I like to use empty contact solution bottles. Spray gently into your nose whenever you need congestion relief.
Stay Hydrated. Drinking plenty of clear liquids is especially important when you have a cold. Keeping hydrated will thin out the mucus and ensure it drains from your sinuses. The last thing you want is a sinus infection!
The bottom line is: there are really no “cures” for colds. There are steps to prevent them, and steps to make them more bearable, but nothing magic to make them go away.