Health Team

Beyond Chicken Soup: Foods, Herbs Can Treat Colds

Posted December 1, 2006 6:30 p.m. EST

— Getting a cold can put life on hold. But there are some simple ways to help prevent and treat a cough and the sniffles.

Although there's no cure for the common cold, research shows people can reduce their chances of getting one by eating some natural foods, such as garlic and yogurt, to boost their immune system.

Maureen Spencer, infection control manager at New England Baptist Hospital, said andrographis, which is based on the elderberry herb, has been shown in seven clinical trials to alleviate upper respiratory infections.

Meanwhile, pelargonium reduces the severity of respiratory symptoms, and astragalus, an ancient Chinese Herb, enhances the immune system, Spencer said.

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic said they found chicken soup, the old standby of many mothers, actually helps treat colds. The soup acts as an anti-inflammatory and helps with congestion, they said, adding that there is no difference in benefits between canned and homemade soup.

Some research recommends a high dose of vitamin C and zinc at the onset of a cold, she said. But the verdict is mixed on echinacea, though one study showed promise.

Dr. Guy Pugh of Cambridge University said people should be careful about using herbs and supplements to treat colds.

"These are not generally tested rigorously for either harmful side effects or effectiveness," Pugh said.

The best advice, he said, is to talk to a doctor before trying any new medications or herbal treatments.