Zinc? Honey? Ginger? What really helps when you have a cold or flu?

It’s that time of year again, when stuffy noses and uncontrollable coughs start popping up everywhere.

The best preventative measure you can take against the flu or Covid infection is to get vaccinated. But there’s little you can do about the common cold and other respiratory illnesses, especially when you’re sick. Most are caused by viruses, so you can’t cure them with antibiotics, drugs used to treat bacterial infections. While drugs like Paxlovid are available to treat Covid, flu antiviral treatments, like Tamiflu, are typically reserved for people who have tested positive for flu and are at risk. have severe complications, such as those who are pregnant, elderly, or immunocompromised.

For everyone else, doctors recommend resting and waiting out flu symptoms, which can include fever, headache, body aches, and nasal congestion or runny nose that last three to five days. . Some people may also have a cough, sore throat or feel tired, which may last a little longer, said Dr. H. Keipp Talbot, associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. .

The symptoms of the common cold are very similar, says Dr. Talbot, which is why people tend to call everything that happens in the winter the flu. But cold symptoms usually come on more slowly, are milder than what you experience with the flu, and are unlikely to lead to serious health problems. (People with Covid also experience respiratory symptoms; testing is the best way to know which virus you’re most likely to have.)

Dr. Aviva Romm, a physician specializing in integrative medicine, has a saying that if you treat a cold it will go away in seven days, if you leave it alone it will go away in a week.

For generations, countless home remedies including cups of warm tea or soup and herbal spoons have helped control cold and flu symptoms, such as sore throat or stuffy nose. Scientists have conducted research over the years to try to quantify how effective some of those remedies are, how often to use them, and which formulas work best. But studies are often small or don’t show much effect.

However, experts admit that there isn’t any harm in adopting methods that can make you feel better when you’re sick, even if they end up providing a placebo effect. (You should see a medical professional if your symptoms are severe, if you have difficulty breathing, or if you don’t see improvement after more than a week.)

Dr. Romm said: “Sometimes we don’t have the evidence for many of the popular traditional methods because studying them doesn’t have much economic value, but we do have thousands of years of anecdotal data and we have enough evidence to prove its safety.

Here’s what we know and don’t know about some of the most popular and at least somewhat promising treatments.

There is some evidence to suggest that certain vitamins and ingredients in home remedies such as vitamin C, elderberry and zinc may at least stimulate the immune system and slightly shorten the duration of menopause. show your symptoms.

The idea that vitamin C can help treat colds is not new; it was popularized by Nobel laureate Linus Pauling in the 1970s, increasing demand for the nutrient. Since then, scientists associated with the dietary supplement industry have suggested that vitamin C helps support a variety of functions, such as the ability of immune cells to seek out and fight infection.

The effectiveness of nutrients is still debated. First, the body cannot store high doses of vitamin C like vitamin C found in supplements, and excess vitamin C is often excreted through urine. Some clinical trials have found that when you take vitamin C supplements may be important to its effectiveness: for example, a comprehensive meta-analysis of vitamin C trials published in 2013 shows that taking supplements regularly, even before you start to feel tired. , can shorten the duration of a cold by about a day. But taking vitamin C after you’ve already developed symptoms doesn’t provide consistent benefits.

In some studies, elderberry, a common ingredient in cold and flu syrups, especially those intended for young children, shortened the duration of symptoms when taken before or immediately after the onset of symptoms. started getting sick. But that’s a very limited amount of data, Dr. Romm said. Elderberries contain powerful antioxidants and chemicals called anthocyanins, which have been shown in laboratory experiments to help support immune function.

Similarly, research on zinc shows that taking syrups and lozenges containing the trace element every 3-4 hours can reduce the duration of a cold or flu by a day or two, potentially as much as How to stop viruses from multiplying. Other analyzes have concluded that there is not enough evidence to say it is better than placebo.

Most formulations of zinc have some side effects. Some people who use zinc nasal sprays have permanently lost their sense of smell. Those taking it orally may experience a lingering metallic taste in the mouth. Dr. Romm says it’s really important to note that you should take zinc with food because it can cause nausea.

A sore throat is often the natural result of inflammation created when your immune system is fighting viruses residing in the upper respiratory tract. Swelling and pain can make swallowing food and staying hydrated more difficult. This makes your throat even drier. A cough can make things worse. Staying hydrated by drinking water, hot tea, broth or soup can help you feel more comfortable.

In many cultures, ginger is one of the first things people reach for when they have a sore throat. It is often steeped in boiling water with other herbs to make a soothing tea or added to chicken soup. And it turns out, there may be some science to back these age-old practices: some studies have found that ginger may have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce swelling.

Turmeric root, a plant in the ginger family native to Southeast Asia and long used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, may also reduce inflammation. But its effects are difficult to prove because the main compound in the root, curcumin, is not easily absorbed into the body and curcumin supplements can vary widely in composition. Eating turmeric in food or mixed with fats like cooking oil or warm milk can help you absorb more of the benefits of curcumin. Dr. Romm adds that black pepper can also aid absorption.

“Ginger and turmeric together is a really great combination,” says Dr. Romm, adding that when faced with a sore throat, she often makes her own ginger-turmeric tea.

If your sore throat is combined with a cough, gargling with salt water may help. Mix about half a teaspoon of salt into a full cup of warm water and swish it around your mouth and back of your throat for a few seconds before spitting it out. Any type of salt you have at home will work.

Doctors often recommend gargling with salt water as a way to relieve pain in the mouth or back of the throat and improve overall oral health. Gargling helps loosen thick mucus and can also remove irritants such as bacteria, viruses and allergens from your throat. Using a saline solution offers the added benefit of drawing out excess fluid from inflamed tissues and covering them with warm water, says Dr. Talbot, an associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Adding honey to a mouthwash or to any tea or warm beverage can have a similar soothing effect. Honey acts as a soothing agent, meaning it soothes irritated tissues by coating them.

Many cultures have their own variations of the soothing honey drink. And some studies show that this remedy is effective in reducing cough frequency. In fact, one study in children 1 to 5 years old found that taking two teaspoons of honey before bed was just as effective in reducing nighttime coughs and improving sleep quality as the drug dextromethorphan. found in common over-the-counter cough medicines. (However, honey should not be given to children under one year of age because of the risk of a rare type of food poisoning called botulism of infants.)

Moisturizing your nasal passages is another simple, safe measure that can help children and adults get relief from the flu or cold. You can achieve this by using a humidifier in the room, brewing some herbal steam, or rinsing your nose with warm salt water.

The use of neti pots and nasal irrigation can be traced back to Ayurvedic medicine thousands of years ago. Like gargling with salt water, nasal irrigation can help remove some viruses and mucus from the body, while also reducing swelling that can cause nasal congestion. A study published in 2019 found that this process can help shorten the duration of illness as well as reduce the likelihood of transmitting germs to others.

You should make sure to only use distilled, sterile or boiled water for rinsing as tap water can contain small amounts of bacteria and protozoa that carry the risk of spreading other infections. Additionally, you can try commercial saline nasal sprays for the same effect.

Dr. Fadel Hind, an infectious disease physician at the Mayo Clinic, uses a humidifier in his home during winter flu season. Her research has shown that keeping a room at about 40 to 60 percent humidity reduces the transmission of respiratory viruses and may even keep you from getting sick. At that humidity, you tend to find lower numbers of viruses on surfaces and in the air. And the current virus is less likely to survive, she said.

Some humidifiers have built-in sensors that can tell you the humidity level in the room, says Dr. Hind. If you don’t have one, you can buy a basic hygrometer for $10 or less to monitor water vapor in the air around you and check the performance of humidifiers you already own.

If you have a cold or the flu, a humidifier can still help relieve coughs and nasal congestion, says Dr. Hind, although there’s less data on its effectiveness compared with a placebo or whether it can help. reduce your overall illness duration.

Menthol, a chemical found in peppermint and other mint plants, may also make breathing easier. You can apply store-bought menthol ointment such as Vicks VapoRub under your nose or on your neck and throat to relieve symptoms. Some people also use fresh or dried herbs in traditional steam therapy to clear congestion. You can do this by soaking herbs, like eucalyptus or thyme, in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes, then covering your head with a towel and inhaling the steam (and be careful with hot water). Additionally, you can hang the dried leaves under a steamy shower to get some of these benefits.

Some studies have found that steam containing menthol, eucalyptus, and camphor when applied to the neck and chest significantly improves sleep in children and adults with cold symptoms, but the Experts warn that it may cause discomfort for some people.

At the end of the day, choosing a flu cure is about trial and error until you find something that makes you more comfortable, Dr. Romm says. And that, she added, is worth it.

Audio produced by Kate Winslett.

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Image Source : www.nytimes.com

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