Now that the summer swelter has slowly transitioned into the crisp cool air of fall, it’s time to unpack the winter coats and prepare for the return of cold and flu season. Considering that every common cold causes working adults to lose an average of 8.7 work hours (5.9 hours of on-the-job loss and 2.8 hours of absenteeism), according to the National Institutes of Health, and it’s little wonder why so many people dread the sniffle and cough.
While no cure exists for the common cold, studies have shown that a number of natural cold and flu remedies provide temporary relief, and may actually help you get back on your feet in less time. Here are a few of the more promising natural cold and flu remedies to try the next time you feel a little under the weather.
An herbal supplement that researchers believe helps to boost the immune system’s ability to fight infection, echinacea may help you recover from a cold in less time. While research doesn’t indicate that taking echinacea can help prevent a cold, evidence does seem to suggest that taking the supplement can reduce your symptoms by one or two days. For the greatest effect, try using echinacea for seven to 10 days, beginning shortly after your cold symptoms start.
A number of studies have indicated that taking zinc has a positive effect against cold viruses. Some evidence suggests the mineral helps to prevent the formation of specific proteins cold viruses use to replicate themselves. Even though zinc does not appear to prevent colds, studies have shown that it can reduce the duration and severity of a cold when taken within 24 hours after first exhibiting symptoms. However, the Food and Drug Administration recommends against using nasal zinc products to treat a cold due to reports of permanent loss of smell.
Probably the most popular natural cold remedy, vitamin C’s reputation as a premiere cold and flu fighter may be a little overstated. While researchers haven’t been able to conclusively prove vitamin C’s ability to fight off a cold, a few studies have shown that it can help to reduce the length of a cold by roughly 24 hours. In a recent study, participants were 50 percent less likely to develop a cold when exposed to high levels of stress and cold temperatures after taking vitamin C. The ideal amount of vitamin C to take when fighting a cold is around 2,000 milligrams, but such a high dosage can cause nausea and diarrhea.
Not just the stuff of old wives tales and grandma’s best intentions, eating chicken soup while sick may actually help you overcome a cold. Breathing in the steam from a piping hot bowl of soup can help ease nasal congestion, and drinking chicken broth can prevent dehydration. Some research even suggests that chicken soup can help reduce inflammation, though these results were only found in the lab and have yet to be established against an actual cold.
Just as with chicken soup, the steam from a cup of hot tea can help to reduce congestion, while drinking the tea can prevent dehydration and soothe a sore throat. Tea, especially green tea, also has the added benefit of being loaded with natural antioxidants that help to prevent disease.
The bane of vampires and colds alike, studies have shown that garlic has a number of germ-fighting traits. One study even showed that taking daily garlic supplements could help to prevent developing a cold. While more research on the effects of garlic still needs to be completed, it’s highly nutritious and can help to improve the flavor of food when a cold makes everything you eat taste rather bland.
Timothy Lemke writes about natural health alternatives for Dr. Melissa Beadnell, a Portland dentist at Beadnell Family Dentistry.