6 Mostly Scientific Ways to Fight a Cold Naturally (Plus: What Do You Do?)
Happy cold and flu season!
Here’s something I think about every day: When it comes to my health, I’m really pretty lucky. I almost never get sick. I’ve never broken a bone. For years I was convinced that as a little girl, I’d dislocated my shoulder playing Ring Around the Rosie, but that one didn’t make it through fact checking (my mom). Turns out I just did the fall-down part too early and my shoulder got yanked. It hurt, and we went to the hospital, but I was fine.* Fine.
I know how rare this is. I work at a major health magazine, Prevention, where we think about the diseases that affect our readers—and Americans in general—every single day. (Come to our website! I’m biased but it’s awesome.) We run this healthy-living and beauty site in our spare time. And I’ve seen so much illness in my own family that I don’t know where to begin, nor do I want to. Point is, I’m blessed and I’m grateful.
That’s why it’s sort of lame that I become a big fat whiny baby every time I feel a slight burn behind my eyes or a tickle in my throat. No one especially likes getting sick the same way no one especially likes raw eggplant, or condoms, or conference calls. But I know plenty of people who tolerate the common cold better than I do. Me, I panic, then I pull out all the stops. I’d invent my own snake oil and buy it from myself at a premium if I thought it would work.
I don’t have to, though, because I’ve come to rely on a few strategies that I’m convinced make a huge difference. Being proactive about health and focusing on prevention whenever possible is my MO. But am I actually onto something or is this just another episode of Siobhan Plays Placebo and Hopes For the Best?
I decided to, like my mom, do a little fact checking. Here, the 6 tricks I use to fight off colds—plus, a little research to confirm how on (or off) the mark these natural tricks are. Here’s what I found.
1. Ginger everything Health nuts love to put the stuff in their tea and smoothies when they’re getting sick so I was shocked to find that science doesn’t appear to support it. There’s some decent data that says it’s helpful for nausea, morning sickness, upset stomach etc. There’s also great new research about its possible ability to blast cancerous cells. But it’s not, from what I can tell, the everyday “immune booster” we like to think it is. That being said, I go crazy on the stuff whenever I feel a little something coming on. The other night, I made carrot-ginger soup and ate it at every meal for three days. Today, I asked the juice lady to put extra ginger in my smoothie. Before bed tonight, I’ll probably grate some into a mug of piping-hot water. I don’t know if it works, but I think it does. Tasty, too.
2. Hope Gillerman’s Travel Remedy We have told you before how much we love Hope’s essential oil blends. I keep a few handy, and as soon as the season started changing here in New York, I was super drawn to her Travel Remedy. I’d heard it could help with seasonal shifts, but I thought that was mostly in promoting wakefulness when it’s dark out and deeper sleep at night. I’ve used it for jet lag in the past (it works), but a few weeks ago, I started massaging some of this oil to my chest and shoulders before I shower in the morning. It smells unreal, and it’s a lovely way to start the day, but I wanted to know if I was onto something or just flying by the seat of my pants for no reason. Here’s what Hope said:
“You are not just placebo-ing. You are using a perfect oil to support the immune system and ward off cold and flu this time of year!”
Oh reeeeeally. Here’s what else she said: “Litsea, the lemony oil you smell, is an important oil when you get sick during seasonal change or when weather becomes damp and cold. Plus this blend is antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral for super immune support.” Well I’ll be damned. I’m 1 for 2.
3. Sleep Right. So when I feel like I’m getting sick, I tend to cancel plans a lot, drink less wine, and sleep more. I believe this works, and science supports me on that. You know this already, and I do too.
4. Massage, yoga, sex I lump these together because they have proven immune-boosting benefits, can help balance your hormones, and feel really, really good. As long as you have enough energy to make it to class or the spa, or have a buddy around who isn’t a germophobe, I say it’s worth a shot. No hard science on cold-prevention, though.
5. Honey You already know that honey is antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. So at the very first sign of any throat discomfort, I recommend sucking on a spoonful of raw honey (with the propolis and enzymes, naturally). The science here is equivocal, but it’s been a folk remedy for millennia, and I think history might beat peer-reviewed double blinds in this case. And if you’re already sick, a cool new study showed it to be an effective cough suppressant, too.
6. Turning your head when other people cough or sneeze. I dug up an interesting bit of research that supports my very strong urge to move to another car on the train when some guy sneezes not into his shirt sleeve. We’re coded to react this way in order to protect ourselves from catching whatever contagious sick people have. Another bit I heard recently—from an expert, though I don’t have the supporting research—is that turning away your face when someone coughs or sneezes can mean the difference between feeling fine and wasting a weekend in cold-and-flu hell. That’s because your eyes, nose and mouth are how most bad airborne germs make their way into your body. Shield these three entry points and you have a better chance of staying healthy.
So I’m 4 for 6. Your turn! What do you swear by to fight off colds—or cure them once they’ve started? Everyone does something. DIY? OTC? Herbs? Magical spells? We want to know what YOU do.
* Yes, I knocked wood like 10 times while writing this paragraph.
Crop of one of my favorite Richard Prince paintings, Nurse In Love, via his site