According to research, more working days were lost to colds and flu last year than to Covid. And while experts agree that not many over the counter medicines will actually help to prevent a cold or reduce its severity, there are home remedies that can, at the very least, soothe your symptoms and help you feel a bit more human. Here’s Vogue’s prescription.
Sip something warm
A hot honey and lemon drink might seem like a bit of a placebo when you’re feeling unwell, but don’t dismiss it altogether, as there is evidence to suggest that honey can ease the symptoms of a cold thanks to its potent antioxidant, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties. Although there is limited research to suggest that the vitamin C in lemon can prevent colds, it’s thought it may help to shorten the duration. That said, it’s not only honey and lemon that can help. Any hot liquid that can increase your body’s ability to push mucus from your lungs to your nose will do, whether it’s bone broth or builder’s tea. Known as the mucociliary clearance rate, it’s important when you have a cold as it helps the body expel excess mucus and prevents it from sitting in your lungs.
If you’re fighting the urge to stay in bed and sleep, give into it. When we’re ill, our cells come under increased stress. “Good sleep is important in fighting infections as we optimise our immune system during our deep sleep. So, it is important when we are ill to get as much sleep as the body needs,” explains sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley. “Just one poor night’s sleep increases the risk of catching a cold by more than three times.” Conserving your energy by staying in bed means that your body has more energy resources at its disposal to fight off infection, and it’s also the time when the body repairs itself, so encouraging more sleep is an important fundamental survival mechanism. If you find yourself beset by the aches and pains that can often accompany a cold, seeking out extra good quality sleep where you can, will help. Good sleep also enables the proper functioning of the body’s endogenous opioid system which governs several functions, including pain relief. Getting more of it, especially when you’re already feeling sore, can encourage your body to handle pain better.
Seek out herbs and spices
Although it’s tempting to head to your nearest pharmacy when you feel a cold creeping on, it might be more effective to look inside your spice cupboard. “Ayurveda, one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems, is rooted in the belief that health and wellness depend on a balance between the mind, body, and spirit,” says Dr Vijay Murthy, an integrative Ayurvedic doctor and researcher and global scientific advisor for Kama Ayurveda. “Ayurvedic wisdom posits that incorporating warming spices into meals can stoke the digestive fire, which is believed to be central to strong immunity… while drinking herbal teas with immune-enhancing herbs like tulsi, ginger and liquorice is believed to ward off colds.” A potent anti-inflammatory, ginger also has antitussive properties which help suppress coughing. While liquorice has similar properties, it’s also an expectorant which relieves cough and bronchial mucus build-up. To take a traditional Ayurvedic approach, try an Andrographis Tincture, a blend derived from the anti-inflammatory herb andrographis paniculata, also known as green chiretta. “The primary mechanism of action is believed to be its immunostimulatory effect; it may help enhance the body’s resistance to infections by stimulating the activity of macrophages, the cells that are a crucial part of the immune defence system,” says Dr Murthy. Just make sure you seek out the tincture form rather than a ground root powder, which can lose its potency within six months.
Work out (with caution)
Exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re feeling unwell, but if you can muster the energy (and are not experiencing any chest pains with your cold) there are benefits to it. Gentle forms of exercise like walking, cycling and swimming are great nasal decongestants, as they help open the nasal passages and clear out congestion. If the thought of even leaving the house is too much, try yoga or even some calming breathing exercises. When fighting infection the body produces extra cortisol to help defend itself. Anything that can induce a calmer, more relaxed state of mind and regulate stress hormone levels can help boost immunity and relieve associated aches and pains. To soothe painful sinuses, a Swedish study revealed that humming can help open up clogged sinus passages, so go one better and add some “oms” into your yoga practice.
Fake feeling better
If other remedies aren’t having much effect, it might be time to turn to your make-up bag. “Redness around the eyes and nose can be a real giveaway when struggling with a cold,” says make-up artist Hannah Martin. “A corrector under the eye will cancel out any cold-induced redness. I find pinky correctors work best for redness but you may need a peach tone if the skin around your eyes looks more brownish when irritated.” Bobbi Brown’s Creamy Corrector comes in a range of shades and is easily blendable. If your issue is dull, dry and sensitised skin, made worse by constant nose blowing and touching of your face, then keep a calming, hydrating skin mist on your bedside table and reach for it as often as you do your tissues. Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Hydrator Mist, £35, contains hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to soothe and revitalise.
Originally published in Vogue.co.uk