With the recent frigid temperatures, many people have already battled their first cold of the winter. Flu season begins around October, peaks in February but continues through May, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Chilly weather is often associated with an increase in the incidence of the common cold and the flu, with symptoms including fever, cough, and a runny or stuffy nose. A weakened immune system can make you also more vulnerable.
Fortunately, there are effective natural remedies that can help alleviate stuffy noses and sore throats, while at the same time prevent the flu and flu-like symptoms from settling in.
We have all heard a myriad of tips to help prevent and cure a cold or even the flu, from taking vitamin C to gargling salt water. But are these remedies really effective, and if so, how do they work?
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, has long been promoted as beneficial in preventing the common cold. At the first signs of a cold, people often reach for vitamin C supplements in the form of powdered mix, orange-flavored chewables, gummies, or tablets, as the first line of defense to keep a cold at bay.
How effective is vitamin C in preventing colds? Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which protects your cells against damage and destruction caused by “free radicals.”
Free radicals, which are found in the environment, including outdoor air pollution, destroy healthy cells in your body. They can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to getting sick. And so antioxidants such as vitamin C can help prevent the common cold by destroying free radicals.
Although decades worth of research illustrates that vitamin C has not been shown to cure the common cold, it is still beneficial to continue drinking your morning glass of orange juice or enjoying fresh sliced oranges to keep your immune system going strong. Did you know that peppers (red, orange, yellow), tomatoes, and Brussels sprouts are also good sources of vitamin C?
Tea and Honey
Adding a teaspoon or two of honey to hot tea is a familiar natural remedy in battling a cold or the flu. The sensation of hot tea soothing a sore throat is reason enough to continue this habit. Not only that, but there are even more reasons tea and honey is a healthful combination.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, honey was shown to improve both the severity and frequency of coughs and thus lead to better quality of sleep.
Not only is honey effective, but drinking tea inadvertently means more fluid is consumed. Staying hydrated can be a bit tricky during the winter months. We tend to reach for the water bottle less frequently than during the hotter, summer months. But when the cold or flu sets in, it is fairly important to stay hydrated because water and other fluids can help with congestion and keep your throat moist.
Gargling With Salt Water
Another common remedy is gargling with a salt water mixture to help relieve a sore, scratchy throat. Not only is this effective, but there is also scientific evidence that gargling helps to prevent colds and the flu.
According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers found that simply gargling water was effective in preventing upper respiratory tract infections among healthy people. Gargling just water three times per day is effective at keeping the common cold and flu at bay.
However, gargling salt water—by dissolving half a teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of warm water—garners therapeutic effects by drawing excess fluid from inflamed tissues in the throat, thus temporarily relieving your throat from pain and swelling.
Caroline Leung has an avid curiosity about nutrition and wellness. She is on her way to becoming a Registered Dietitian after completing her dietetic internship at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.