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Cold Remedies – Do They Really Work?

Posted in General Health 12 Feb, 2015

The common cold has long been scrutinized by health experts, as have the various cold remedies that some of us swear by. Many people rely on folklore cures passed down through the generations, but their effectiveness isn't always easy to determine.

When you catch a cold it can be tempting to try out a variety of treatments in a bid to get well again. Some of these solutions do offer some benefits, while others may sound like a good idea, but are actually based on hearsay. Take a look below to find out if your favourite remedy has any basis in science.

Hot lemon drinks, juice and water can help to loosen congestion and rehydrate you. Honey and lemon has been shown in studies to have strong microbial properties that can inhibit the viral activity of a cold. There is some evidence to demonstrate that hot lemon drinks can be effective at relieving the symptoms of a cold. By comparison, alcohol and caffeinated drinks can make dehydration worse and exacerbate cold and flu symptoms – so they are best avoided if you want to feel better.

Vitamin C works as an antioxidant within the body, encouraging the tissue to grow and heal itself. Foods that are rich in Vitamin C include citrus fruits, broccoli, kiwi fruits, bell peppers and tomato juice. According to the National Institute of Health, Vitamin C is ineffective at preventing the common cold but it is "possibly effective" at treating its symptoms, although conclusions are mixed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15495002) However, eating more fresh oranges may shorten the duration of symptoms.

Saline nasal drops and sprays have been shown to be an effective way to relieve rhinitis or sinusitis symptoms. Nasal irrigation has also been found to be useful, especially when it's taken with other treatments such as decongestant medication. One study in particular showed that nasal saline treatment can reduce inflammation and calm nasal symptoms, and may even limit the time needed off work.

Over the counter medications may provide some symptom relief for colds but it won't shorten the duration and there is a risk of side effects. Medications can be dangerous for children younger than 2. For adults, it's essential to keep an on eye on how much paracetamol is in your cold and flu medications, as double-dosing can lead to accidental overdose, with side effects such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Always make sure to read the patient information leaflet so you know how much you are taking.

Chicken soup can give some relief from your cold and flu symptoms by acting as an anti-inflammatory that inhibits the movement of neutrophils, the immune system cells that trigger an inflammatory response within the body. It may also relieve congestion by limiting the time that viruses come into contact with the nose lining.

Zinc has been shown in many studies to have positive results and is most effective within the first 24 hours of cold symptoms occurring. Taking zinc with food can reduce the side effects of a cold, including bad taste and nausea. A systematic review with randomized controlled trials showed that people taking zinc had on average, cold symptoms that lasted for one or two days less than those who had the placebo treatment.


Catching a cold or the flu is never pleasant. If you are suffering from the flu there are prescription medications available to help you.

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