It’s that time again. The season of sharing and giving… colds, that is. Yes, just when you thought it was safe at work, Jill from accounting decides she’s not wasting one of her precious sick days and proceeds to sneeze on your croissant. Inconsiderate? Just a bit. And while everyone and their grandmother swears by some combination of foods (apparently that only someone’s mother can make), we’ve dug through the research to determine what actually works to help get over a cold fast.
1. Wash Your Hands
First of all, this is a no-brainer. If your mom skipped this lesson and went straight to ginger ale and soup, she may have missed the mark. If you’re not feeling well, stay home from work, don’t touch your face, and for the love of all things holy, wash your hands. And wash them a lot! No, that doesn’t mean a quick slap under the running water. You need to lather up and rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds before rinsing. Sing “Happy Birthday” if it helps, just don’t be gross.
And if you’re already sick, do everyone around you a favor by sneezing or coughing into your sleeve (not your hand) and disinfecting any surfaces you’ve touched regularly after use.
2. Get Enough Sleep
3. Chill Out
There’s no denying the powerful connection between the body and mind, so the impact of stress on immune function is no surprise. One study found that people who reported feeling stressed out were twice as likely as others to get a cold.
It appears that the infamous stress hormone, cortisol, may be to blame. When chronically stressed, the immune system becomes less sensitive to cortisol, increasing the body’s natural inflammatory response to viruses.
The good news is there’s something we can do about it that won’t cost you $200 an hour in therapy fees, responding to, “How does that make you feel?” One 2012 study found that people enrolled in a mindfulness meditation program had shorter and less severe colds and infections, and lost fewer work days than those in the control group. We suggest finding a daily routine that you can stick to that helps you relax, whether it’s deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga, or something else unique to your mind.
4. Break a Sweat
5. Take a Decongestant (If You Have To)
You’ve been moving, sleeping, and practicing hella good hygiene, but sometimes you just need a wee pharmaceutical boost. One 2016 review found that nasal decongestants may have a beneficial but small effect on congestion in adults with the common cold. So while we can’t say it will cure your cold (it probably won’t), it may give you a little boost to get you through. If you do take them, make sure you increase your water intake since they can be dehydrating.
What Foods (and Drinks) Actually Help?
Should you call the water boy and up the H2O?
Staying hydrated seems to be a legitimate recommendation in nearly any scenario, but scientists aren’t sure drinking more actually helps. Scientists in Australia looked at whether or not getting extra fluids reduced the severity of an infection, and while they couldn’t refute the importance of adequate hydration, they weren’t able to find any conclusive evidence that drinking more improved outcomes.
Our thoughts? Listen to your body and watch out for those signs of dehydration like bright yellow urine, thirst, or dry lips. By that time you should definitely know it’s time to up the H2O.
Should you ask Mom for chicken soup?
We’re pretty sure this one started so that a mother could feel needed again by her 30-year old son. Regardless, slurping up a bowl of warm comforting soup may have some mild benefit.
Most cold symptoms are related to an inflammatory response like cytokine release and the generation of white blood cells called neutrophils. When neutrophils are released, it tends to increase mucous production, which is why so many of our colds come along with phlegmy coughs and a runny nose. Mm, delish. While the research on humans is still lacking, researchers from Nebraska Medical Center found that chicken soup (made with a variety of antioxidant-rich veggies, chicken, and broth) was able to inhibit neutrophil movement, suggesting that soup may promote some mild anti-inflammatory activity.
While we still need more high-quality human studies to confirm these findings, if a bowl of Mom’s finest makes you feel loved and taken care of, then, by all means, call her up.
Does a spoon of honey a day keep the doctor away?
Hey, we’ll take any reason to eat honey right out of a jar, but will it actually help kill this cold? One 2007 study compared honey, a pharmaceutical-grade cough suppressant, and a placebo in helping relieve children’s upper respiratory tract infections. The result? The parents rated the honey as the best of the bunch!
Another large 2014 systematic review concluded that while honey seemed to be better than no treatment for relieving a pesky cough, there wasn’t strong enough evidence for or against its regular use. We say there isn’t a whole lot of harm in stirring a little honey in your tea or on your toast, so if you enjoy the flavor, sweeten up your day.
Should you eat the rainbow each meal?
OK, so you knew that a dietitian wasn’t going to get through an entire article on anything without waxing poetic about vegetables. Vegetables are packed with powerful antioxidants like vitamin C, which is most prominently known for its role in boosting immune function.
Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t suggest that if you swallow a handful of pills, you’ll wake up instantly cured. One large 2013 systematic review found that while regular supplementation of vitamin C didn’t seem to reduce the incidence of colds in the general population, it may help reduce its duration or severity. It also appears to be most useful for athletes who are exposed to brief periods of severe physical stress and exercise.
Our tip? Since the research is still a bit vague, save the money from supplements, and aim to pack your diet with a colorful range of antioxidant-rich produce instead. The best sources of vitamin C include citrus fruit, dark leafy greens, berries, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, and papaya, so fill up.