Winter Health: Busting the Myths About Colds and 'Flu

With winter cold season in full swing, we have some great advice from herbal remedy experts A.Vogel that will help you beat that bug in no time.

Myth 1: Painkillers will help

Many conventional cold and flu remedies contain Paracetamol, which can be toxic to the liver. Research at Edinburgh University in 2011 found that a significant number of people were unintentionally overdosing on Paracetamol, largely because they were taking 2 or 3 different types of cold remedies and/or Paracetamol as well. Out of over 660 patients admitted with liver damage, almost a quarter was caused by overuse of cold and flu remedies containing conventional painkillers.

Myth 2: Antibiotics are good for colds and flu

No amount of antibiotics will do anything to get rid of a cold.  Many of people have grown up with the idea that antibiotics can help you get better when unwell when in fact they are of no use against viruses.  Colds and flu are viral infections.  Antibiotics only kill bacteria (both good and bad, alas), not viruses.

Antibiotics are a very powerful class of medicine which do help save lives in extreme illness, but over the years their strength has been misused and abused, both by doctors and patients.  Now, when they are really needed, they are less likely to work.  Using them 'just in case' or as a prescription to keep patients happy is leading to their becoming ineffectual when really needed.  They also wreak havoc on the 'good bacteria' in your body, so are best avoided as much as possible.

Myth 3: Feed a cold, starve a fever

This old wives' tale is not a great idea if it means lots of sugary, stodgy food. All that saturated fat and refined sugar takes a long time and a lot of energy to digest, energy your body would be better using to get healthy. Saturated fat and refined sugar also impede the functioning of the immune system (possibly the reason you got sick in the first place if your diet is not great) and are bad for your digestive system, where most of your immune cells live. They will also drain your body of essential nutrients such as magnesium, which are vital for fighting infection and fuelling recovery.

Eat lightly and choose vitamin-rich foods, such as blueberries and citrus for vitamin C, good for both immune function and the lining of the lungs.  Adding plenty of garlic to your diet and avoiding dairy is also advised.

Myth 4: Chicken soup feeds the soul and fights the cold

This one is true. But for vegetarians and vegans, miso soup would be equally warming and nourishing, a rich source of nutrients and good for the gut, which houses over 70% of our immune cells. Add beta carotene-rich foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, squash and spinach to your diet for its benefits to the membranes lining your respiratory system. And also pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and rich dark greens such as chard for zinc, which supports healthy immune function.

If you have been vomiting or experiencing diarrhoea with your cold/flu, eat bananas, which are full of the mineral potassium that is lost along with bodily fluids.

Avoid alcohol, but have lots of hot drinks such as hot water with lemon and ginger. Look for preparations containing elderberry, which is great for stopping infections from spreading.

Myth 5: Work it off

Lots of people will expect you to keep going at work, school or college. There is even the myth that if you 'give in' to it, you'll be ill for longer. In fact, the opposite is true. Stay warm and cosy, keep hydrated, and get lots of sleep and rest. That way you'll recover properly, and not become vulnerable to the recurrent rounds of infection.

The alternative theory that there's nothing you can do is also inaccurate. Take echinacea at the first sign of a cold to limit its duration and severity.


Alison Cullen, A.Vogel Education Manager and Nutritional Therapist
Craig DGN et al. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 2011 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2011.04067.x
Sanu A and Eccles R. The effects of a hot drink on nasal airflow and symptoms of common cold and flu. Rhinology 2008; 46: 271-275
Vimalanathan S et al. Planta Med 2013; 79 – PN115 DOI: 10.1055/s-0033-1352457

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