Holly Ebel: Remedy for common cold? In your kitchen

January 23, 2019

Is your throat feeling better? What about that nasty cough? Nasal congestion cleared up yet?

These are the weeks, months even, of cold and flu, which this year seems to be everywhere. Despite all the precautions you take, sometimes it’s unavoidable. I know. I’ve just been there.

More than hand-washing, coughing in your sleeve or staying in bed, how can you become a cold- and flu-battling machine? There is no magic bullet, but there are some simple ways you can bring some comfort to your miserable self or family members.

There are many over-the-counter remedies that bring temporary relief, as well as home elixirs which are definitely worth trying. I asked around what folks want or go to when they are under the weather. The overwhelming response? One word: soup. Not split pea, vegetable or tomato-basil, just old-fashioned chicken soup.

That’s not really news to anyone — doctors, mothers and grandmothers have been saying that for decades. But it’s true. Very few other things can make you feel better when you are sick. The steam and warmth from the broth clears nasal passages, it’s soothing to the throat and is easy to digest.

Other clear soups have the same effect. Joy Pieters, wife of Life Editor Jeff Pieters, gets miso soup from Ichi Tokyo, which to her is better than anything when she is down. Matzo ball soup, another clear-broth dish, can also help relieve cold and flu symptoms.

Liquids that are hot and steamy seem to work the best for most of us. In addition to soup, there is hot tea. Again, the steam and heat are comforting. Adding honey and lemon gives it extra punch. You might also try ginger tea, simply hot water with a slice of fresh ginger. It helps with congestion and soothes the throat. It’s said that the ginger root might block the common cold virus. When I was so miserable, on a plane no less, I was given a hot toddy. That immediately jumped on my list for cold treatments.

Who would have thought that the garlic you cook with would have curative powers? It does. As it turns out, garlic is the wunderkind of the plant world. Sometimes called nature’s antibiotic, it contains antibacterial, antiviral and antioxidant properties that can fight infection. It is also the second-most-used supplement in the country.

Staying hydrated is important, especially if you have a low-grade fever, and even if you don’t. My neighbor, a retired Mayo family practice physician, stresses the importance of that.

“Whether it’s a cold or the flu, you have to keep the fluids up. Your body isn’t working right and it needs fluids. That’s why soups are so good.” Supplements or lozenges containing echinacea, or zinc, have been on the cold treatment radar for a long time. It’s said that echinacea may boost the immune system and shorten the cold and that you should take zinc as soon as you feel symptoms. Interestingly, the FDA recommends 11 milligrams of zinc daily.

However, says my neighbor, “If you are eating a well-balanced diet, you shouldn’t need supplements. About zinc: Use it when you don’t think you need it, when you aren’t sick. It’s a good preventive strategy.” He also suggests staying with a light protein and low fat diet in times of illness. “This isn’t the time for steak and fries.”

Other simple, effective remedies include gargling with warm salt water for a sore throat. Congestion can also be alleviated by rubbing a menthol gel, like Vicks, on your throat and chest. Interestingly, Vicks was introduced in 1905 as a good way of treating croup. During the 1918 flu epidemic, its sales sky-rocketed, from $900,000 to almost $3 million in just that year. It’s still used for temporary relief of congestion.

Doing all you can to stay healthy should be a priority The best thing is wash to your hands. Says my physician friend, “This is so important, since 80 percent of cold and flu viruses are transmitted by hands.”

If you do come down with something, get plenty of rest, and don’t go out and expose others. And get that soup pot going.

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