CHICKEN SOUP FOR A COLD
Grandma was right: Chicken soup helps fight the common cold. Studies show that it can reduce symptoms, although it doesn't appear to prevent or shorten the illness. Inhaling the warm steam of the soup loosens nasal secretions, which helps drain sinuses. The soup's heat may also ease throat soreness, and the broth helps prevent dehydration.
What's more, research shows that chicken soup may have a mild anti-inflammatory effect. Steven Rennard, M.D., a pulmonologist at the University of Nebraska, and his colleagues used his wife's grandmother's recipe to cook up a batch of vegetable-filled chicken soup. They conducted test-tube analyses of soup samples and found that it prevented excessive buildup of virus-fighting cells called neutrophils, which trigger the inflammatory responses that make cold sufferers feel so rotten. Rennard reports that the soup was effective without matzo balls, although "it doesn't really taste right without them."
HONEY AND COUGHS
A simple folk remedy appears to trump over-the-counter cough medicine. In a 2007 study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 105 children ages 2 to 18 who suffered from upper-respiratory infections received no treatment, honey, or a honey-flavored over-the-counter cough suppressant. Parents rated their children's cough symptoms and quality of sleep. Those treated with honey did best.
The study was supported by a grant from the National Honey Board, an industry-funded agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The researchers said that honey might soothe irritated membranes in the back of the throat, and has well-established antioxidant and antiviral effects.
That's welcome news, because in January 2008 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that over-the-counter cough medications posed unacceptable risks to children under age 2. And in 2005 the American College of Chest Physicians declared that OTC cough remedies were largely ineffective for people of any age.
The researchers in the Archives study gave one-half teaspoon of honey to children ages 2 to 5, 1 teaspoon to children 6 to 11, and 2 teaspoons to those ages 12 to 18. That higher amount is a reasonable dose for adults as well. You could try a smaller dose for children ages 1 to 2. But honey shouldn't be given to children under age 1 because it can cause infantile botulism, a rare but potentially life-threatening health problem.
STAYING WARM TO STOP COLDS
Mothers who warn their children to bundle up in winter might feel vindicated. A 2005 study suggests that being cold may indeed lead to a cold—a notion that scientists long dismissed as folklore.
Welsh researchers recruited 180 volunteers during the cold season and chilled half of them by placing their feet in cold water for 20 minutes. Within five days, 29 percent of the chilled group caught colds, compared with only 9 percent of the others. Other research suggests that chilling the feet causes blood vessels in the nose to narrow. That limits the supply of infection-fighting white blood cells in the nasal passage, where cold viruses most often enter the body.
The researchers say that previous studies that found no link between getting chilled and colds were too small and did not use natural exposure to cold viruses. While the more recent study is not definitive either, it certainly adds another reason to stay warm in winter, particularly by wearing warm socks and water-resistant shoes. For more protection, wash your hands frequently and avoid people with colds.