Some of the most common and popular cold and flu remedies have been past down from generation to generation.  We follow them because our mothers followed them.  You never really questioned their validity because that is what we always did.  Some of them seemed to help while others it was unclear.  Here is a look at what some remedies can (and cannot) do to help fight a cold or flu.

Enhancing The Immune System:

Vitamin C:

The effectiveness of taking Vitamin C to help strengthen the immune system is still up for debate.  One of the problems is that the body cannot store high doses of Vitamin C such as those found in supplements.  Excess Vitamin C is removed from your body in your urine. Some studies have shown that taking Vitamin C before you start to feel sick can shorted the duration of cold by a day or so.  However taking Vitamin C while sick will not help.


Elderberry is often found in cold syrups.  Some studies show that when taken in advance of or immediately at the start of an illness, it can shorten the duration of symptoms. Elderberries contain antioxidants and chemicals, which have been shown to help the immune system, but further studies are required to verify this finding.


Some studies show that taking syrups and lozenges with zinc every three to four hours may reduce the length of a cold or flu by a day or two; however, other studies have shown no evidence of this.  Zinc has several side effects. Some people have permanently lost their sense of smell after taking zinc nasal sprays; some people experience a lasting metallic taste in their mouth after taking medication with zinc in it.  Zinc can also make you feel nauseous and should always be taken with food.

Staying Hydrated and Soothing a Sore Throat:

A sore throat is the result of inflammation in your upper airways as your body tries to fight off a virus. The swelling and pain can make it difficult to swallow and stay hydrated.  Your throat will become drier and a cough can worsen.  To help lessen the discomfort staying hydrated is key.  Drinking water, hot teas, broths, or soups, can all help.


Some studies have found that ginger may have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce swelling.  Drinking a ginger tea may help lesson the discomfort of a sore throat.


Turmeric has been used for centuries in many cultures as an anti-inflammatory.  Proof of this property is difficult to obtain since the main component of turmeric is curcumin, which is not easily absorbed in the body.  Eating turmeric in food or with a fatty substance (warm milk) may help your body absorb the curcumin but more research is needed to confirm its effectiveness.

Combining the two, Ginger and Turmeric, into a hot tea will provide a nice warm drink to help hydrate you and might help relieve some of the discomfort of a sore throat.

Controlling a Cough:

Salt Water:

Mixing half a teaspoon of salt into a full glass of warm water and switching it around your mouth and the back of the throat for a few seconds may help relieve a cough and sore throat.  Gargling with salt water helps loosen thick mucus and can remove bacteria, viruses, and allergens from your throat.  It can also help draw excess fluid from inflamed tissues.


Adding honey to a gargling solution or to tea or warm drink can help sooth a sore throat or cough.  Honey can reduce irritation in the tissues of your throat by coating them.  One study showed that giving children (between the ages of 1 and 5) two teaspoons of honey just before bedtime can be just as effective of reducing nighttime coughing as over the counter cough syrup. (Honey should not be given to children younger than one year old due to a rare form of food poisoning)

Relieving Congestion:

Neti Pots:

Nasal rinsing may help remove viruses and mucus as well as reduce inflammation that can cause congestion.  It may also help shorten the length of an illness as well as reduce the potential of passing the virus on to others.


Using a humidifier and keeping the humidity level of your house between 40 and 60 percent can reduce the transmission of viruses and can help prevent illnesses.


Menthol, a chemical found in peppermint, can help people breath easier. Using menthol in steam therapy can help relieve congestion.   Using a vapor rub containing menthol, eucalyptus, and camphor applied to the neck and chest improved sleep in children and adults suffering from cold symptoms. (Care is needed as this might irritate some people)

Determining what remedy may work for you is all based on trial and error.  Finding something that provides comfort and some relief will make that effort worth while.