Survive sniffle season

When it comes to finding relief for colds and flu, what works – and what doesn’t?

It’s that time again – sneeze and sniffle season. In search of relief for symptoms of flu and the common cold, home remedies have been passed down from generation to generation. But when it comes to the science, what works and what doesn’t? The experts weigh in.

Remedy #1: Drink plenty of fluids.
While you can’t flush a cold out of your system, experts say, drinking plenty of liquids can help. Water, juice, clear broth or warm water with lemon and honey helps loosen congestion and prevents dehydration. Hot liquids can also soothe inflamed membranes that line your nose and throat.

Beverages to avoid: alcohol, coffee and caffeinated sodas, all of which make dehydration worse.

Remedy #2: Load up on the vitamins.
Much of the scientific research on the effectiveness of vitamin supplements and herbal remedies has produced conflicting or unclear conclusions.

Vitamin C. While Vitamin C doesn’t appear to prevent colds in most people, taking large doses — up to 5,000 milligrams — at the first sign of a cold may reduce the severity of symptoms. And lower doses of 200 to 300 milligrams may shorten a cold’s duration. So what is the optimum dose? Experts say it isn’t clear, but amounts in excess of 2,000 milligrams a day may cause nausea and diarrhea.

Echinacea. A 2005 National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine study in the United States found that Echinacea did little to prevent or shorten colds. But a more recent study published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases (September 2007) found that the herb decreased the odds of getting a cold by 58 per cent and reduced the duration by about a day and a half. (Read the study abstract.)

Zinc. While the cold-fighting abilities of zinc lozenges is yet to be proved, zinc nasal gel may have a positive effect, according to a comprehensive review of zinc studies by the Stanford University School of Medicine. The study was published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases in September 2007. For more, click here.

Remedy #3: Sweat out a cold.
Contrary to the old adage, you cannot actually sweat out a cold, experts say. In fact, too much sweating can lead to dehydration at a time when you need extra fluids. So while you might want to take it easy on the treadmill, you may not necessarily need to stay in bed if you’re feeling up for a walk or some moderate exercise.

Remedy #4: Eat chicken soup.
The old standby – Chicken Soup – really does help relieve cold and flu symptoms, scientists say. It acts as an anti-inflammatory and temporarily speeds up the movement of mucus through the nose. This helps to relieve congestion and limit the amount of time viruses are in contact with the nose lining.

No energy to cook? A study at the University of Nebraska compared homemade chicken soup with canned versions and found that some, though not all, canned chicken soups worked just as well as soups made from scratch. To find out which canned soups work best, click here.