Cold Remedies: What Works and What Doesn’t

There’s a good reason for calling it the “common cold” since this particular virus infects over one billion people per year in the U.S alone. Even though it’s considered a minor illness and some people never even notice that they’re sick, the symptoms of a cold could be enough to take you out of your regular fitness routine.

Considering the prevalence of the cold, it’s no wonder that so many home remedies have been devised and promoted over the years. In the interest of getting you out of bed and keeping you active through yet another cold season, it’s worth considering a few of the more popular cold remedies.

Chicken Soup

Countless gallons of chicken soup have been served to sick children by generations of mothers who, apparently, really knew what they were doing. Recent research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center found that chicken soup can help to ease symptoms of the cold of several levels.

First, the ingredients of the classic chicken soup seem to inhibit the action of neutrophils, a specific type of white blood cell used to fight off viral infections. Controlling these neutrophils will limit both mucous production and coughs associated with the common cold.

The various vitamins and minerals found in chicken soup may also have an immune boosting effect to help your body fight the virus.

Of course there is also the emotional and physical calm that you can expect from enjoying a warm bowl of soup. Closely tied to that is the relaxing effect of inhaling the steam to stop inflammation in your airways.

Vitamin C

Since the 1970s, alternative medicine advocates have been promoting the benefits of vitamin C as a cure-all. This all started with the claim that the vitamin could prevent and cure the common cold.

The vitamin, and the mega-doses often offered in over-the-counter cold medications, is still very controversial. Research is inconclusive but, according to the Mayo Clinic, vitamin C supplementation may be worth a try.

While most otherwise healthy people probably won’t get any benefits from taking the vitamin, those who are constantly exposed to the virus like school aged children, may be able to hold off the cold.

It’s also possible that taking vitamin C once you get the flu could shorten the duration of your symptoms but this is another cause for contention among researchers. Since symptom duration and severity is controlled by many individual factors, it’s very difficult to judge whether or not the virus has a shorter life span than it would have had without supplementation.


Zinc has also had a controversial background in the cold-remedy arena. There have been many studies with conflicting results, most of which are considered “low-quality.” The studies that are judged “high-quality” by the experts at the Mayo Clinic all found that zinc had no benefit in the treatment of the cold.

Unlike vitamin C, however, zinc has potentially serious side effects that make it unwise to even try nasal sprays containing the mineral. Zinc can cause strange tastes, nausea and even a long-lasting or permanent loss of smell, called anosmia.

Overall, the best course of treatment for a cold is still rest and plenty of water. Always consult a doctor before beginning any supplementation, especially if you’re currently taking medication.

Have you experienced the benefits of any home cold remedies? Please share your experience in the comments!