Soothing the Common Cold with the Right Foods
Proper nutrition strengthens your immune system, but no diet can keep you from catching a common cold. Some surprising foods can soothe your symptoms. This is not about chicken soup. That issue has been settled, and Dr. Mom was right.
In the 1980s, Dr. Marvin Sackler of Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, Florida, published the first serious study showing that cold sufferers who got hot chicken soup felt better faster than those who got plain hot water, and dozens of studies since have said, man, he’s right. Nobody really knows why it works, but who cares? It works.
Other foods also make you feel better when you have the sniffles — for example, sweet foods. Scientists do know why sweeteners — white sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses — soothe a sore throat. All sugars are demulcents, substances that coat and soothe the irritated mucous membranes.
Lemons aren’t sweet, and they have less vitamin C than orange juice, but their popularity in the form of hot lemonade (tea with lemon and sugar) and sour lemon drops is unmatched. Why? Because a lemon’s sharp flavor cuts through to your taste buds and makes the sugary stuff more palatable. In addition, the sour taste makes saliva flow, and that also soothes your throat.
Hot stuff — such as peppers, horseradish (freshly grated is definitely the most potent), and onions — contain mustard oils that irritate the membranes lining your nose and mouth and even make your eyes water. As a result, it’s easier to blow your nose or cough up mucus.
Finally, there’s coffee, a real boon to snifflers. When you’re sick, your body piles up cytokines, chemicals that carry messages among immune system cells that fight infection. When cytokines pile up in brain tissue, you get sleepy, which may explain why you’re so drowsy when you have a cold. True, rest can help to boost your immune system and fight off the cold, but once in a while you have to get up.
The caffeine in even a single cup of regular coffee (or one cup of decaf, if you don’t ordinarily drink regular coffee) can make you more alert. Caffeine is also a mood elevator and a vasoconstrictor (a chemical that helps shrink swollen, throbbing blood vessels in your head.) That’s why it may help relieve a headache.
One cup of espresso with tons of sugar can make life bearable. But nothing’s perfect: Drinking coffee may intensify the side effects of OTC (over-the-counter) cold remedies containing decongestants and/or caffeine that make some people feel jittery.
Check the label warnings and directions before using coffee with your cold medicine. Vasoconstrictors reduce the diameter of certain blood vessels and may restrict proper circulation. Couldn’t hurt to check with your doctor, too, if you’re taking meds for a chronic condition such as high blood pressure.