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6 natural cold and flu remedies worth trying

Dec 1, 2023 By Dominique Astorino
Woman wrapped in blanket and drinking from a warm cup

Clinical Editor: Megan Dodson, PA-C

With the advent of cold and flu season, comes the rush to your local pharmacy to stock up on packets of vitamin C, zinc lozenges, and other forms of immune support and remedies.

While we know rest and hydration are the best ways to get through a viral infection like the common cold, there are a ton of supplements and natural treatment options out there that people swear by for relief.

Between a sea of over-the-counter treatments, misinformation on social media, and anecdotes from family and friends, it can be hard to know what’s actually effective.

To save you some time (and money), here are six natural remedies for cold and flu, backed by science, that are worth giving a try.

1. Honey

If you’re battling a sore throat or cough, you might find comfort in some honey. A 2020 review of 14 studies found honey to be more effective at improving upper respiratory tract infection symptoms (particularly cough severity and frequency) than more traditional remedies, like over-the-counter cough medicines. Likewise, another study of children ages 1 to 5 found that honey was just as effective as the common cough suppressant ingredient, dextromethorphan. Honey has also been shown to have antiinflammatory properties, so having a spoonful or mixing it with some water might help coat your throat and soothe any irritation. It’s important to note that honey should not be given to children less than 12 months old.

2. Salt water gargle

Don’t discount this long-touted home remedy. While it may feel silly, gargling a mixture of warm water and salt could actually provide you some relief this cold and flu season. If you’re suffering from a sore throat, a saline solution can help loosen up mucus and ease inflammation. Gargling salt water can also help eliminate or remove viruses and harmful bacteria from the mouth and throat. This old school method may even prevent upper respiratory tract infections like the cold or flu.

3. Nasal irrigation

Gargling isn’t the only way to use a saline solution this cold and flu season; nasal irrigation can help you relieve congestion and stuffiness. With nasal irrigation methods like a neti pot or saline spray, salt water is rinsed through your nasal passages to remove mucus, debris, and allergens from the sinuses. It can help thin mucus, reduce swelling, and moisturize the nasal passages to relieve dryness and itching. Keep in mind that the FDA says these are “usually safe and effective products when used and cleaned properly”, so it’s important to follow instructions and practice good hygiene with these devices. Most irrigators recommend using distilled or boiled (and then cooled!) water to avoid introducing any other possible bacteria to your sinuses.

4. Zinc

Feel a cold coming on? You might benefit from taking some zinc. A number of studies have shown that zinc lozenges may help shorten the duration of a cold, especially when taken within 24 hours of symptom onset. A meta-analysis of 13 clinical trials, for instance, found that zinc acetate lozenges containing 75 mg or more of zinc acetate reduced the average cold length by 42% when taken daily. However, an exact recommended dose has not been determined and more research is needed to understand zinc’s impact on symptom severity.

5. Vitamin C

Vitamin C plays a vital role in our body’s immune system function, as well our bone and muscle strength. But it may also provide some relief from the common cold. One meta-analysis of clinical trials found that regular vitamin C supplementation had a “modest but consistent” effect in reducing the duration of cold symptoms. The review showed that vitamin C supplements could shorten the duration of a cold by about 8% for adults and 14% for children. However, it won’t necessarily prevent a cold. Despite what many may claim, research has shown that vitamin C supplements don’t reduce the incidence or likelihood of catching a cold. Likewise, starting vitamin C supplementation after symptoms have already started does not reduce the duration or severity of symptoms. Benefits have only been reported when taken regularly.

6. Steam inhalation

Another treatment that may be effective is steam inhalation. Some people have found it helpful to breathe moist, warm air from a water vaporizer or bowl of hot water when they’re battling a cold or sinus infection. Inhaling steam may ease inflammation of the blood vessels in the nasal passages and thin mucus to reduce congestion. While research around the benefits of steam inhalation is mixed, it’s generally considered safe and there is little to no risk to trying it to find some relief. try

It’s important to note that when it comes to symptom relief, what works for one person, may not work for another. While none of these treatments will fully cure a common or upper respiratory infection, and research can be mixed, they are all safe and worth trying if they can provide you some comfort this cold and flu season.

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Dominique Astorino

The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.

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