I recently battled a cold virus, one which led to a persistent cough which lasted nearly two weeks. During my time of misery I received an abundance of varying opinions and advice from friends and co-workers on how to kick my illness. Skeptical yet curious of some of the logic, I went directly to the one great source for all wisdom: Google. I mean if I can't get a definitive answer here about whether or not chains of garlic around my neck will chase away a cold, then certainly one does not exist. I thought of asking medical professionals, but they're just too grounded in the methods of modern science and may be too close-minded to consider Grandma Clara's tried and true remedies. Not surprisingly, my queries about cold cures led to many of the same suggestions I had previously heard. What did surprise me however were the misconceptions the general public has about viruses which I will enjoy sharing with you. While there are many more of these worthy of discussion, there are three in particular which I hear most often.
1. Antibiotics will clear things up. No, actually they won't. Antibiotics are often used for bacterial infections such as some forms of pneumonia, sinus infections and strep throat but are useless against viruses like influenza and the common cold. Medical research also suggests antibiotics are over-prescribed and becoming less effective as overuse contributes to the evolution of antibiotic resistance. Even the CDC campaigns against their use for more common ailments. Nevertheless, the lack of public education surrounding antibiotics has allowed the demand for their use to surge among the domestic population. Ask any pediatrician whether they struggle with parent demands for antibiotics and they will have many stories to tell.
2. Medicines can cure a virus. No, actually they can't. The best any medicine can do for a virus is to relieve symptoms and reduce discomfort, allowing your body's natural defenses to battle the virus until it leaves. this applies to prescriptions, over-the-counter meds, holistic treatments, home remedies and even voodoo. A viral illness needs to run its course, so even though a nighttime medicine helped you sleep and you were back to 100% two days later, it was your body's defense system rather than the medicine that led to recovery.
3. Taking vitamin C will help fight a cold. Not exactly. According to research, this was an idea that became popular in the 1970's, but actually there is little to no evidence that taking higher levels or supplements of vitamin C either before or during a cold has any additional benefit. Unless someone is specifically deficient, there is enough vitamin C in our bodies to aid in our defense against illness. Excessive amounts are excreted from our organs. Vitamin C is abundant within a wide range of fruits and vegetables, so most diets which include these foods will allow for the proper levels without additional supplements.
What does help to fight against colds and flu? Our bodies are very efficient at fighting against foreign invasions. Our systems contain an army of antioxidants, antibodies, white blood cells and other chemicals which attack viruses. These battles are not always swift, however and may take several days to more than a week. In addition to remedies and medicines which might improve how we function during our illness, there are other methods for improving the odds of a swifter recovery.
1. Stay hydrated. Our systems expend additional energy when fighting illness and thus require higher levels of hydration to compensate. This is not to say we should drink excessively (toileting more frequently does not mean we're expelling the virus any quicker), but enough to maintain a clear urine stream. Alcohol and excessive amounts of coffee will have the opposite effect, so while they may feel good during a cold and cough, they will also help to dehydrate our system, in turn making it more difficult for our bodies to fight.
2. Get plenty of rest. Increasing sleep and rest should make you more comfortable for the duration of your illness. It may also help to pass the time quicker during your period of discomfort. The greatest benefit however is that your body's defense system can concentrate on fighting your disease more efficiently when there is less stress. Exercising and moving about during this period will expend more energy which could otherwise be used to help with your recovery.
3. Eat hot chicken soup. While the evidence may not be overwhelming, there has been enough research to suggest that chicken soup can aid a cold in several ways. Unless overly processed, soup from chicken stock contains an anti-inflammatory which can aid the mucus membranes in fighting off the virus. Also, while this can apply to other soups and beverages, the steam from the soup can help open up nasal passages and give relief to nasal congestion. Finally, as a comfort food, chicken soup can help relax one's system while replacing lost hydration and essential nutrients throughout the illness.
Just remember, there is no cure for the common cold and flu, only methods of comforting ourselves until it runs its course. With plenty of rest and hydration, however, we may be able to shorten the duration. It should also be important to note that one person's comfort may be quite different from another, leading to different methods, medicines and foods which we may credit for our ultimate recovery. So before dismissing the idea of sleeping with a chicken claw under your pillow to clear your sinuses, why not give it a try?