Putting Your Favorite Cold Remedies to the Test
Tea? Vitamin C? Is your go-to cold remedy legit or full of hot air? Our medical expert assesses common cold cures.
In case the hacking, coughing, sneezing and nose honking you're hearing from everyone around you wasn't enough indication, cold season is officially in full swing. And despite successfully sending a man to the moon and creating computers the size of a peanut, science still hasn't discovered a cure for the common cold, so we are forced to wallow in our misery and our snot and wait for it to pass. But ask your mom, your friends, your colleagues and your dog, and they all have an opinion on their version of a foolproof cure. But before you go chugging a carton of orange juice and standing on your head for two hours while holding a live mouse in your mouth, we spoke to a real-life doctor about which of the more common remedies are actually worth a damn. Dr. Guy Lin, an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist based in New York City and a member of ENT and Allergy Associates, went down the list of miracle cold cures and gave us his expert opinion on which were helping, or hurting, you on your road to recovery. Still, Dr. Lin points out that these aren't actual cures, "they're supportive therapies. The body, ultimately, is its best vehicle for getting better and the other supportive therapies around it just facilitate it." So, really, you just have to suck it up.
"Teas are extremely helpful. They're hydrating, they're soothing and they lubricate the voice box," Dr. Lin says. He points out that hot tea, as well as hot water with lemon and honey, are therapeutic, and any excuse to consume more liquid while you're sick (an absolute must) is helpful. However, regarding the supposed antioxidants in green tea working to expedite the healing process, Lin is quick to shoot it down. "I don't think there's evidence for it," he says.
Again, Lin says the hydrating and therapeutic benefits of chicken soup are beneficial. "You're just hydrating. I think as long as the therapy isn't doing harm, it's encouraged. So whether it's tea or lots of liquids or chicken soup, it's all hydration. The body needs extra fluids when you're sick." He also points out that eating healthy, natural ingredients and protein-dense foods, like chicken, are beneficial to recovery.
Lin sees benefits to eating garlic and ginger, but not for the magical immune-boosting powers many people believe they have. "There is power in our diet. There is some evidence to suggest that we don’t need as much calories while we're sick, and I think that raw, natural ingredients, especially when we're sick, probably have some healing and therapeutic effects. So garlic and ginger fall right into that category," he explains. "They're not heavy in calorie content and they're natural ingredients straight from the earth, so I think that's actually very helpful."
Salt Water/Hydrogen Peroxide Gargle
While Lin doesn't see anything wrong with salt water rinses, he says you would get more benefits from nasal rinses. Like neti pots? "A neti pot is probably less intensive than a rinse. A neti pot is something that, with gravity, the salt water goes in one nostril and comes out the nose." Instead he suggests using a nasal rinse, which looks like a small squeeze bottle. "A sinus rinse, for instance, would be a cleansing agent for the sinus cavity that you self-direct with a bottle." However, he warns, "There's a lot of press recently about neti pot use and a very rare amoebic brain infection." A contaminant was found in tap water, so Lin suggests using distilled or boiled water. As for the hydrogen peroxide, he says, "It can be a little irritating—there's some wound healing data that shows that hydrogen peroxide can delay wound healing. But if you have some form of virus or bacteria in the throat, it may be a little toxic to them, so it might help from that standpoint." Just be sure to dilute it and follow the gargling instructions on the bottle.