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Cold Remedies That Actually Work, According To Science

No more sniffles.

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Chicken soup

Your granny was right, Professor Ron Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre & Healthcare Clinical Trials at the Cardiff School of Biosciences, tells BuzzFeed Life.

In a study*, Eccles found that a hot drink with a strong taste (like chicken soup, hot honey and lemon, hot blackcurrant cordial, or even a spicy curry) will provide "immediate and sustained relief from symptoms of runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chilliness, and tiredness".

The hot tasty drink works by promoting "salivation and air-way mucus secretions to lubricate and soothe the upper air-ways"*.

*(The effects of a hot drink on nasal airflow and symptoms of common cold and flu, Common Cold Centre and Healthcare Clinical Trials, 2008)

A steamy shower

Having a hot shower or a hot bath will help clear your airways and disperse that stuffed-up feeling. "Menthol and camphor in Vicks vaporub is good too", Eccles adds. You could add a drop of vaporub to a bowl of hot water and steam that way also.

Here's an easy tutorial.

Eat according to your appetite

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Forget "starve a fever, feed a cold": Eccles explains that "the origin of that phrase is actually [that] to 'stave' a fever, you should feed a cold, i.e., to prevent a fever you should eat well."

This doesn't mean that you should overeat, though – just eat according to your appetite.



Echinacea won't make your cold go away, but it could prevent you from getting a cold in the first place.

In the largest clinical trial ever performed to test the efficacy of echinacea extract*, Eccles found that "compliant prophylactic intake of E. purpurea over a 4-month period appeared to provide a positive risk to benefit ratio".

However, the quality of the echinacea is really important. "Saying 'echinacea' is like saying 'wine'", Eccles warns. "You have to think about what we call its provenance. What part of the flower is it, what's the percentage of echinacea in the supplement?" The higher quality the product, the more impact it will have.

*(Safety and Efficacy Profile of Echinacea purpurea to Prevent Common Cold Episodes: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial, Common Cold Centre and Healthcare, 2012)


Garlic also has antibacterial and antiviral properties. "Pre-refrigeration, we used garlic to stop foods from rotting," Eccles says, pointing to garlic and pepper salamis as an example.

You don't need to eat whole cloves though – garlic capsules are OK. Again, you should check the provenance of your product.


Eccles adds that pelargonium, a type of geranium, also has antibacterial and antiviral properties. You can find it in special oral drops like this one.

However, a 2013 study* found that its effectiveness isn't certain. "It may be effective in alleviating symptoms of acute rhinosinusitis and the common cold in adults, but doubt exists."

*(Pelargonium sidoides extract for treating acute respiratory tract infections, Timmer A1, Günther J, Motschall E, Rücker G, Antes G, Kern WV)


Eating a marshmallow

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"A marshmallow to ease a sore throat is a very traditional remedy, and a bit slimy!" Eccles says.

Like a hot drink, it will stimulate your salivary glands. There is also research that marshmallow preparations can "help soothe irritated mucous membranes".


Zinc supplements could have an affect on your cold, but only if your diet is low in zinc to begin with. Eccles notes that "vegans might be low on zinc as it comes from red meat".

A study* found that "zinc lozenges may shorten the length of a cold by one or two days more than taking a dummy placebo treatment". However, it concluded that the "effectiveness of zinc remains uncertain".

*(Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, and MacMaster University, Ontario, Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2012)

Pinching your nose

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A colleague's parent advocates "pinching your nose to stop the germs coming out". This can't be right, can it? Eccles says, "This could work as a placebo, if you truly believe it."

According to the NHS, "the placebo effect is an example of how our expectations and beliefs can cause real change in our physical bodies". To find out more, click here.


And here are some things that will not affect your cold either way:

Drinking milk

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"There is no evidence that dairy foods are bad or good for you when you have a cold," Eccles says.

A study* concluded that "no statistically significant overall association can be detected between milk and dairy product intake and symptoms of mucus production in healthy adults".

(Relationship between milk intake and mucus production in adult volunteers challenged with rhinovirus-2, Pinnock CB, Graham NM, Mylvaganam A, Douglas RM, 1990)

Having sex

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"It is not impossible that sex has an effect on the body's ability to fight off cold, but it would be very difficult to substantiate that claim from this data," Eccles told the BBC regarding this study.


If you have a cold, this is the best option:

Eccles outlines his ideal remedy:

"If you can catch it at the very start, a spray containing seaweed extract, like Biosolviral, will help combat the virus. (Vicks First Defence is a similar product)

"Then take medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to combat the aches and pains. Finally, use a nasal spray, which will clear your nose overnight and allow you to sleep."