Chicken soup might be good for the soul, but will it cure your cold…
When we feel the sniffles coming on, it’s common to reach for a herbal remedy before heading to the chemist. But do they really work?
In a bid to tackle the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, new guidance from Public Health England (PHE) and The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is urging doctors to recommend honey and over-the-counter remedies as the ‘first point of call’ for coughs rather than antibiotics.
But just how effective is honey, lemon, zinc or chicken soup in beating the dreaded cold and flu? We ask the experts:
➡️ Can echinacea reduce the severity of a cold?
A 2014 Cochrane review looked at the evidence for the effectiveness of echinacea in preventing and treating the common cold, reviewing 24 controlled clinical trials. It concluded that echinacea does NOT reduce the length of colds significantly, but may offer weak benefits.
⚠️ The most important recommendation for consumers and clinicians is a caution that echinacea products differ greatly, and the majority of these products have not been tested in clinical trials.
The verdict: ‘As there is no real risk in taking echinacea (other than side effects reported from continuous, preventative use), I would hesitate to say “do not take”, when some people may find this useful,’ says Dietitian and BDA spokesperson Aisling Pigott. ‘Professionally, I would not advocate the use of echinacea as there is insufficient evidence. However, I wouldn’t tell somebody to stop if they found it beneficial.’
➡️ Will honey soothe a sore throat?
A drink of honey mixed with lemon and hot water is a common go-to when it comes to soothing sore throats and a runny nose. PHE recommends patients should try using honey or cough medicines containing pelargonium, guaifenesin or dextromethorphan, which have some evidence of benefit for symptom relief.
The verdict: ‘Although there is insufficient evidence to support its effectiveness, who are we to argue with someone who finds something useful for them?’ says Pigott. ‘I would always remind people that honey is high in sugar and calories, so as a regular addition to the diet it may not be beneficial. Also, honey should never be given to children under one, due to the risk for botulism.’
3. Zinc lozenges
➡️ Does zinc reduce the severity of colds and flu?
‘There is some evidence that zinc reduces the duration of cold symptoms such as nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing and a sore, scratchy and hoarse throat,’ says Dietitian Lauren McGuckin. ‘Zinc is an important nutrient for regulating immunity.’
The verdict: ‘Zinc lozenges are likely to contain sugar, and therefore can be detrimental to teeth as well as contributing unnecessary calories,’ says McGuckin. ‘However, zinc supplementation may be beneficial to individuals who aren’t meeting dietary intakes.’
? Zinc-rich foods include seafood, lamb, beef, wholegrains, pumpkin seeds and baked beans.
4. Chicken soup
➡️ Can chicken soup cure the common cold?
‘There is little evidence to suggest that chicken soup reduces the symptoms of a cold,’ says Pigott. ‘However, we know that protein and energy requirements increase during illness, while appetite and gastric functioning reduce. Therefore, based on that evidence, warming and nutritious food (eg chicken soup) may help restore energy during times of illness.’
? Chicken soup with plenty of vegetables contains lots of healthy nutrients, increases hydration and tastes delicious!
The verdict: ‘It is not a cure!’ warns McGuckin. ‘However, as a warming, hearty, protein and nutrient rich comfort food, chicken soup is an ideal meal for someone who is feeling under the weather.’
➡️ Will garlic shorten the duration of cold and flu?
A trial suggested that garlic may prevent occurrences of the common cold, but more studies are required to validate this finding.
The verdict: ‘Garlic contains a compound called allicin, which has been shown to be beneficial for the immune system,’ says McGuckin. ‘However, the way in which garlic is processed can affect the potency of allicin. Chopped/diced/sliced raw garlic appears to have the greatest benefit.’
‘I’d recommend garlic as a wholefood,’ adds McGuckin. ‘Garlic is not only good for you, it’s also a fantastic flavour addition to many dishes. Supplements on the other hand aren’t regulated, therefore you can’t be certain of the allicin content.’
6. Vitamin C
➡️ Can foods high in vitamin C treat the common cold?
Vitamin C is key to the immune system functioning, and there is evidence to suggest it may reduce the length of colds – but not prevent them.
The verdict: ‘The sharpness of citrus can be helpful with relief from catarrh and congestion and taken with warm water and other ingredients such as honey can be very soothing – a key part of recovery,’ says Dietitian and BDA spokesperson Amanda Squire.
? Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, red pepper, blackcurrants, kale, broccoli and strawberries.
‘Cold symptom relief and illness recovery is generally about allowing your body to recover and fight the infection,’ concludes Squire. ‘An overall well-balanced and varied diet gives our bodies the best chance of maintaining a strong immune system.’