Adapted from the Nutrition and You! blog on Boston.com.
You know you have a cold when you catch it. Unfortunately, you were unlucky enough to inhale at least one of 200 or more viruses that cause Americans to suffer with more than a billion colds annually. It can make you feel miserable for up to two weeks. Can you eat to beat the common cold? Here are some myths and facts:
MYTH: Vitamin C wards off colds.
In the 1970s, the scientist Linus Pauling theorized that consuming vitamin C would prevent a person from catching a cold. However, the latest review of almost 30 studies of over 11,000 individuals, who popped 200 milligrams or more of vitamin C daily, suggests that the regular ingestion of a supplement doesn’t prevent healthy people from getting a cold.
FACT: Vitamin C may help reduce the duration and severity of a cold.
Research does suggest that regularly consuming vitamin C may reduce the severity of symptoms and decrease the duration of a cold. The reduction is only about a day annually, and the jury is still out on the amount needed. The good news is that Americans, on average, are meeting the daily need of 75 to 90 milligrams of vitamin C and can easily rack up more through diet. A cup of OJ contains 124 milligrams and a cup of broccoli provides 100 milligrams. Supplement users beware: Taking too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea, nausea, and kidney stones in those with a history of kidney disease.
MYTH: Echinacea can prevent a cold.
A study of over 700 people in the Annals of Internal Medicine failed to prove that Echinacea prevented people from getting a cold. Results are mixed as to whether the herb can reduce the duration or the severity of a cold. Some people may also experience side effects such as intestinal discomfort, rash, increased asthma, and a life-threatening allergic reaction after consuming Echinacea.
FACT: Zinc can be helpful.
In a review of 15 controlled trials, zinc lozenges or syrup were shown to help reduce the duration and severity of colds in healthy people when consumed within 24 hours of the first sniffle. But there is a catch. Those taking zinc lozenges may experience nausea and a bad aftertaste. Check with your health care provider before you take a lozenge or zinc syrup.
MYTH: Garlic can reduce the length of a cold.
While garlic has been believed to treat the common cold, the research is less than robust. In a study of more than 145 people, those who took garlic daily for three months suffered with colds the same length of time as those taking a placebo.
FACT: Chicken soup can help.
Never question your mother and her chicken soup. The heat, salt, and fluid in the soup can help you feel better and fight infection. Also, according to Dave Grotto, RD, the author of “The Best Things You Can Eat,’' research suggests that chicken soup may have an anti-inflammatory effect on the upper respiratory tract.
Here’s to a cold-free winter.