- Echinacea supplements do not significantly reduce the length people have colds
- Little evidence supports honey’s ‘benefits’ of soothing sore throats and coughs
- Chicken soup may not prevent colds but is nutritious, hydrating comfort food
- Garlic is effective at treating and preventing colds if it is prepared correctly
- Vitamin C does not prevent sniffles but strengths the immune system in general
Experts have revealed whether six food staples and supplements really prevent colds and flu.
While honey has long been praised for reducing the symptoms of colds, science reveals it does little more than soothe sore throats.
Although an old wives tale claims chicken soup cures a host of ailments, it may simply provide a comforting meal and hydration boost, according to dietitian and British Dietetic Association spokesperson Aisling Pigott.
While many supposed ‘cold cures’ may not speed up people’s recoveries, experts add most do little harm and can continue to be taken if they make you feel better.
Below, experts outline whether six popular winter foods and supplements really prevent, treat and ease colds or flu.
Experts have revealed whether six winter food staples really prevent colds (stock)
DO FLU VACCINES WORK?
Last winter’s flu vaccine reduced the risk of infection by 66 per cent in children but was ineffective in the elderly, Public Health England (PHE) revealed in September 2017.
Among youngsters, the jab was eight per cent more efficacious than the previous year and worked the best since it was first used in children in 2013.
Yet, the vaccine was ineffective in people aged 65 and over.
This is thought to be due to the jab failing to protect against the H3 flu strain, which circulated the previous winter.
Each year, the World Health Organization selects the three most common strains of flu to create the best vaccine. Such jabs are typically effective in 50 per cent of cases.
A PHE official said: ‘As people age, their immune systems are often weaker and therefore their bodies may not respond as well to a vaccine as younger people’s bodies,’ the BBC reported.
The NHS plans to offer flu vaccines to all children aged between two and 11, as such individuals tend to spread the infection.
Jenny Harries, deputy medical director for PHE, said: ‘We know children can spread flu more than others, and if we can keep them well, it means that the infection is less likely to pass to those who are at high risk.’
Despite the vaccine’s lack of success in the elderly, experts still recommend older people continue to have the jab.
Although often hailed for reducing the severity and symptoms of colds, a 2014 Cochrane review into 24 studies found the flower supplement does not significantly reduce the length of time people suffer with the sniffles.
Ms Pigott claims there is insufficient evidence to recommend echinacea, however, if people wish to take the supplement it will unlikely do them any harm.
An old wives tale praises honey for soothing sore throats and suppressing coughs, however, there is little evidence to support this, with many ‘pro-honey’ studies being funded by companies with conflicts of interest, according to Ms Pigott.
She adds, however, honey is harmless providing people are aware of its high-sugar content and unsuitability to children under one due to the risk of botulism.
Zinc lozenges have been shown to reduce the duration of cold symptoms, such as nasal congestion, coughing and a sore throat, however, dietitian Lauren McGuckin warns many contain high amounts of sugar.
People may be better off upping their food sources by eating more seafood, lamb, beef and pumpkin seeds.
Ms Pigott told NetDoctor: ‘There is little evidence to suggest that “chicken soup” per se reduces the symptoms of a cold.’
She adds, however, the warming and nutritious meal may help restore sufferers’ energy levels, as well as giving them a hydration boost.
A 2015 Cochrane study review found garlic is effective at treating and preventing sniffles
Ms McGuckin said: ‘Garlic contains a compound called allicin, which has been shown to be beneficial for the immune system.
‘However, the way in which garlic is processed can affect the potency of allicin.’
She therefore recommends people crush, slice or dice garlic to reap the biggest benefits.
A 2015 Cochrane study review also found garlic is effective at treating and preventing sniffles.
Vitamin C is critical to the proper functioning of the immune system, however, evidence suggests it only reduces the length of colds, rather than preventing them.
Ddietitian and BDA spokesperson Amanda Squire still recommends people with colds up their vitamin-C consumption via citrus fruits as these sharp flavours may ease congestion and, when taken with honey and warm water, can be soothing.
A healthy, balanced diet also gives people’s bodies a better chance of fighting off viral infections, such as colds.
Vitamin C is found in all fruits and vegetables but is particularly high in citrus, red peppers, berries, kale and broccoli.