This time of year, everyone begins to brace themselves for cold and flu season. As the days grow cooler, many people stock up on any number of remedies, both those based on conventional wisdom and science, ranging from chicken noodle soup to the flu shot.
This makes us wonder: Do all of these solutions actually fortify us against common wintertime illnesses? Do any of them actually make us sick?
We’ll help sort through some of the myths and facts about cold and flu prevention and care:
Vitamin C Prevents the Common Cold:
Kind of True
Origin: Dr. Linus Pauling in his book Vitamin C and the Common Cold, released in 1970, announced that taking high doses of Vitamin C would reduce the incidence of the common cold in most people. However, his hypothesis lacked sufficient testing, and has since been debunked as an effective method for cold prevention.
You may still want to keep those oranges stocked this season, though. Although Vitamin C may not prevent the common cold, some studies have shown that high doses may reduce cold symptoms and shorten the time you spend feeling under the weather.
Chicken Soup Cures the Cold:
Kind of True
Origin: This remedy dates back to ancient times in the Middle East. Back then, it was thought to cure a number of ailments, and today its legacy lives on as the ultimate cold food. Research published in 2000 by pulmonary expert Dr. Stephen Rennard at the University of Nebraska Medical Center Indicated that although chicken soup may not cure a cold, it might relieve some of its physical effects.
The common cold is caused by various viral infections of the upper respiratory tract. The body responds to these infections by releasing inflammatory mediators, which are chemicals that serve to protect the body from harm. This response from the body is actually what causes the symptoms commonly experienced during a cold – runny nose, sneezing, and head and chest congestion.
Rennard found that the consumption of chicken noodle soup mitigated the inflammatory response, alleviating the viral side effects. So the next time you’re out with a cold, follow Mom’s advice and warm up some of this ancient elixir. But make sure it’s homemade, as Rennard also found that store-bought soups varied greatly in their effectiveness.
A Flu Shot Can Actually Give You the Flu:
Origin: Some may believe that the flu shot causes the flu because they have found themselves bedridden shortly after getting the shot. But the reality is that the flu vaccine may take up to two weeks to go into effect.
So, if you happen to encounter the flu virus shortly before or after your shot, you will still be susceptible. Another reason you may develop flu symptoms even after getting your vaccine is that the shot doesn’t cover you against all flu strains, just the most prominent ones. Although it’s more likely that you’ll stay healthy if you get the vaccine, it’s not a 100% guarantee.
In order to stay as healthy as possible, be sure to get the shot every year, as it changes to fend off whatever strains are expected to be most aggressive for that particular year. Don’t like needles? No problem. The vaccine can be administered with a nasal spray.
Airborne Is a Placebo:
Origins: In the late 1990s, a California school teacher with a hobby for brewing herbal remedies began to market Airborne as a “cold buster.” Even though there is overwhelming support from users who swear it cures colds, it is not actually a cold remedy. Rather, its special blend of herbs is useful in boosting the immune system, which in turn may result in fewer or less severe colds.
No scientific studies have ever confirmed its claim as a cold cure, and you’ll notice that its packaging has been changed to reflect that it is an immune booster. The bottom line? If you think taking Airborne has helped you stave of colds, it can’t hurt to continue.
The Quickest Way to Get Better Is Rest and Hydration:
Yes and No
Origins: When your body is being attacked by the cold or flu virus, it needs rest in order to heal. This is a biological truth, plain and simple. Not only is it important to get lots of rest while you’re sick, but also to make sure that you aren’t suffering from sleep deprivation throughout the rest of cold and flu season either. Studies like this one have repeatedly demonstrated that sleep deprivation can lead to illness, so be sure to get your winks in.
Many people claim that drinking plenty of fluids will soothe a cold by thinning phlegm and replacing fluids lost due to fever. Basic hydration is a must to remain healthy year round. However, the idea that drinking more fluids beyond the daily recommendation can cure your ailments faster has not been clinically proven.
Salt Water Gargling Can Soothe a Sore Throat:
Origins: This old wives’ remedy has been around for ages, and for good reason! Several studies have examined the benefits of this method for easing the symptoms of the common cold, like sore throat and respiratory congestion. A saltwater gargle can loosen mucus and draw fluids from inflamed areas, giving you some much-need relief.
One study had participants gargle three times a day throughout cold season. The researchers found that gargling served as an effective preventative measure: gargling led to a 40 percent lower incidence of catching a cold than not gargling.
Let this list serve as a guide as you consider the best way to ward off illness and heal yourself and your loved ones this cold and flu season. Perhaps more than anything, remember to love your body and give it the TLC it needs to get you back on your A-game as soon as possible.
This information is intended to be general in nature. The Hartford does not provide medical advice or guidance. Please consult a physician to discuss your questions or concerns.