Your doctor can’t do much to cure your cold and flu symptoms. However, some foods, drinks and herbs can ease symptoms and may even cut a cold short.
1. Liquids: water, juice, decafinated tea
Cold and flu bugs thrive in dried-out throats and nasal passages, but drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day can help keep your mucous membranes moist so they’re better able to trap viruses. Then you can either blow them out your nose or swallow them so they’re destroyed by your stomach acids before they have a chance to make you sick. Not only can this help prevent colds, but it’s just as useful if you’re already sick.
If you have a sore throat, sip your water hot with a bit of honey (to coat your throat) and lemon (to shrink swollen throat tissues and help kill off virus cells), or add honey and lemon to tea.
Aim for: At least eight glasses of water or other fluids each day, and more if you have a fever.
Helpful hint: When choosing fruit juice, choose unsweetened varieties that do not have added sugars. To get the most vitamin C from your juice, grab some frozen juice concentrate from the freezer section and drink it within a week of mixing it up.
2. Chicken soup
Although Grandma’s favorite cold fighter hasn’t yet yielded up all its healing secrets, researchers are beginning to puzzle out why it may work. For starters, hot chicken soup raises the temperature in your nose and throat, creating an inhospitable environment for viruses that prefer cooler, drier climes. Next, just like a hot, steamy shower, hot, steamy soup thins out mucus so you can more easily blow it out. Studies have proved it works better at this than plain old hot water. And finally, according to a laboratory study of both homemade and store-bought soups done at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the soup inhibits white blood cells called neutrophils that are released in huge numbers when you have a cold. It’s the congregation of these white cells that causes a cold’s hallmark congestion.
Aim for: There’s no prescribed “dosage” for chicken soup, so just enjoy a steaming bowlful when you’re feeling sniffly and sneezy.
Helpful hint: Vegetarians don’t have to miss out. In the Nebraska study, vegetable soup was just as effective for slowing neutrophil activity as soups.
Those pungent cloves contain allicin, a potent antimicrobial that can fend off bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Aim for: If you can stand it, chew a clove every 3 to 4 hours. You can also cut the clove into pieces and swallow them like pills. Or simply add them to your chicken soup, along with some onions. But chop garlic first and let it stand for 10 to 15 minutes before adding it to the soup. This will allow its therapeutic compounds to form.
Helpful hint: It’s totally wacky, but one way to get children to consume garlic if they won’t eat it raw is to crush two cloves in a garlic press and put one in each of their socks. As they run around, the garlic will be absorbed through their skin.
4. Spices and spicy condiments
According to Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine), cinnamon, coriander, and ginger promote sweating and are often used to help break a fever. You may also be able to unclog your stuffy nose by generously spicing up some dishes with cayenne, horseradish, or (for lovers of sushi) wasabi. Each of these condiments can shrink the blood vessels in your nose and throat to temporarily relieve congestion.
Aim for: As much of the spicy hot stuff as you can comfortably stand.
Helpful hint: Try this Ayurvedic fever reducer: In a cup (250 mL) of hot water, mix 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) each of powdered coriander and cinnamon with 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) of powdered ginger. Let it steep for 10 minutes, then drink.