While there is no fast cure for the common cold, our top tips could help ease symptoms naturally and may even shorten the duration of your cold.
So you’ve succumbed to a cold! Your nose is running, your throat is sore and you’ve a hacking cough – what's to be done? Sadly, there’s no simple cure for the common cold, but read on for some home remedies and top tips that might help shorten or ease your suffering.
Eat something light
It’s a long-held belief that if you 'feed a cold, starve a fever' you’ll shorten the duration of your symptoms. Luckily, there's some truth to the claim that you should eat when you have a cold – when we eat we encourage the production of a certain type of immune cell (T helper 1) that helps fight viral infections, so it’s a useful strategy for treating the cold virus. However, it's hard to know what to eat if you've lost your appetite or if you have an upset stomach. Often it's best to stick to light meals such as soups or scrambled eggs to avoid feeling nauseous or uncomfortable.
Try these comforting, light dishes:
Boost zinc levels
Studies suggest that the mineral zinc helps reduce the length and severity of a cold. However, to benefit from its effect you would need to take a zinc supplement as soon as you feel a cold coming on – at least within a day of the symptoms starting. Always see your GP before taking any food supplements. Eating zinc-rich foods may be an effective way of keeping your defences primed – cacao powder and cashews are good sources of zinc as are other nuts, seeds and beans. Studies have suggested that combining zinc with vitamin C could provide even quicker symptom relief.
Try our zinc-rich recipe ideas:
Soothe with lemon, honey and ginger
For those of us keen to keep our cold cures purely culinary, a honey and lemon hot drink or ginger tea is a comforting classic. Thanks to its syrupy qualities, honey is a great throat soother. Studies investigating respiratory infections in children, with symptoms ranging from a hacking cough and runny nose to fever, found that a single night-time dose of honey can have a small, but effective influence on their cough and help them sleep better. However, honey shouldn't be given to children younger than 12 months.
Lemon is rich in vitamin C and protective bioflavonoids – these are particularly prevalent in its skin, so don't waste the zest. Lemon juice also has anti-bacterial properties, although there are currently limited studies to support its use in the treatment of colds. Ginger, while also tasting delicious, has some interesting health benefits and has been used in traditional medicine throughout history. Active compounds, including gingerols, have meant that ginger has been used to soothe a wide array of ailments from nausea to the common cold, fever and sore throats.
Read more about the health benefits of ginger and discover whether lemon water is really good for you.
Get plenty of rest
We all know getting adequate sleep is essential for physical and mental health, but there’s also a close link between the immune system response and quality of sleep. Studies have revealed that sleep and circadian rhythm (the natural sleep/wake cycle) have a strong regulatory effect on the immune system, which of course may be a problem if you’re one of the many people involved in shift work. More studies are needed to explain exactly why, but it’s thought that shift workers have an increased risk of viral infections. Scientists are only beginning to fully understand the purpose of sleep and its underlying mechanisms, but lack of sleep is associated with many illnesses, including infection.
If you're unwell, sleep can be difficult, so make sure that you have a comfortable, dark bedroom and try not to consume too much caffeine (present in many over-the-counter cold remedies) to help you sleep. Read more tips on how to get a good night's sleep.
Drink lots of liquids
Drinking plenty of fluids is common advice to treat the common cold for those suffering with a viral infection. Although there’s limited evidence as to why this may be effective, it’s thought hydration levels may promote the action of immune cells.
Eat probiotic and prebiotic foods
It’s long been known that keeping the gut healthy by eating foods that encourage beneficial bacteria is critical to staying fit and well. In fact more than 60 per cent of our immune defences lie along the mucosal lining of our gut, so keeping it in tip-top condition has to be a first line of defence. One small study showed that children who took a probiotic every day had fewer days off school and had reduced common cold symptoms. Other research suggests that probiotics may help reduce the duration of a cold (by up to two days) and make symptoms less severe. In order to see the benefits, you need to consume probiotic foods every day, so this is definitely a strategy for the longer term.
Include a variety of probiotic foods regularly in your diet:
Should I take more vitamin C when I have a cold?
Vitamin C has often been cited as a good precaution against catching the common cold. However, studies sugget that this advice is most relevant for people exposed to brief periods of intense physical stress such as marathon runners or those living in very cold environments. So unless you fall into one of these categories you’re unlikely to see more than a modest reduction in the duration of your symptoms.
If symptoms persist refer to the NHS for information on over-the-counter medications. If you are concerned about any symptoms or you are elderly, pregnant, suffering from a chronic health condition, or the patient is an infant or baby, refer to your local GP's surgery for guidance.
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This article was reviewed on 6 November 2018 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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