On Wednesday I wrote about the possible cold curing properties of chicken soup and the medical research that might support this. But what other foods are thought to have a benefit on coughs and sneezes? And is there any evidence that they really work?
First of all, alcohol is well out of the running, according to The Guardian‘s piece on the subject, so that means no hot toddies. “Drinking does actually weaken your immune system,” their medical expert Dr. Louise Newson suggests, preferring a warm mug of honey and lemon, “Honey has good anti-bacterial properties and it helps to boost the immune system. It soothes the throat as well, so it has quite an instant effect.”
So, there could be some medical basis for using honey when you’ve got a cold, but what about the lemon in that mix? Full of Vitamin C, right? That’s got to be good for colds. The main reason for this popular belief seems to come from Nobel Laureate (both chemistry and peace, an unprecedented double!) Linus Pauling’s 1970s research in which he proposed Vitamin C could alleviate and prevent colds (and also cancer). Pauling’s views have since been called into question. According to this study: “Regular ingestion of Vitamin C had no effect on common cold incidence in the ordinary population…However, regular supplementation had a modest but consistent effect in reducing the duration of common cold symptoms“. So, essentially you have to be taking vitamin supplements even to get the slightest useful effects.
What about other foods, then? On Wednesday I made a garlic and herb bread on the basis of the traditional belief that garlic is good for colds. Is there any basis for that in medical research? Once again, the answer is that there is some slight evidence to support this view. According to this article on the BBC, a study in 2001: “found that a daily garlic supplement containing allicin, a purified component of garlic considered to be the major biologically active agent produced by the plant, reduced the risk of catching a cold by more than half“. However, this was a small scale study of just 146 volunteers over 90 days, so further study would probably be needed.
Finally, a more exotic suggestion cited in the Telegraph a couple of years ago pushes the idea that curry is what you really need when you’ve got a cold, or rather one specific ingredient: fenugreek, which the article describes as “an unlikely “fix-all elixir” thanks to its powerful antiviral properties“. The research was conducted by Gurpareet Bains, an Anglo-Indian chef, nutritionist, author of Indian Superfood and creator of the so-called “world’s healthiest meal”, so it’s fair to say he probably had a vested interest in its success. Again the sample pool was small and short term, so more independent research would definitely be needed to support this suggestion.
Nevertheless, next time you make chicken soup for your cold, it might be best to add a bit of garlic and fenugreek just on the off chance it helps.