3 All-Natural, Home Remedies for Colds: Do They Work?
It's that time of year again. Kiddos are returning to school - and bringing germs home with them afterward. I've noticed illness everywhere in my yoga classes, and I even contracted a little cold myself on a recent trip. This time, I hope I've headed it off at the pass. How? I tried these three, simple home remedies. In my circle (tree hugging, pharma-fearing, vegetarian yoga-types), these remedies are as common as Vick's VapoRub or Tylenol. The question is, are they as effective?
Remedy #1: Placing an Onion Next to the Bed
One home remedy I've heard often is to place half an onion next to the bed where you will be sleeping. A few websites I found even recommended using an "onion poultice" when ill. The theory, according to friends, is the onion will absorb bacteria and eventually turn black. I found many homeopathic and holistic websites that showed how to use an onion for this, including one that recommended placing onion pouches in a child's room to help cure colds.1
I only found one source answering the question of whether or not this remedy is effective, and that source squarely pointed to "no." In answer to the onion question on Best Food Facts, Dr. Ruth MacDonald said, "The idea that a vegetable would attract and suck into itself bacteria from the air is not even logical." I love science as much as the next person, and I want to believe Dr. MacDonald here. But, since I have plenty of onions around the house, I figure there is no harm in leaving one beside the bed. That's right, I'll ignore the doctor on this one and do it anyway!
Remedy #2: Swallowing, Eating, or Massaging Skin with Garlic
This technique is a little more promising. Many studies indicate garlic is an effective dietary supplement in warding off illness such as colds, and it has even shown promise in preventing cancer.3-4 From what I read, eating garlic on a regular basis certainly helps ward off illness owing to a key component in garlic called allicin, which blocks enzymes that facilitate colds and the flu. The question, then, is whether eating garlic while sick will help you get better? There are not sufficient studies to back this up, but since garlic has proven effective in preventing the spread of bacteria and illness, it may be helpful.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the actual method of this remedy, it turns out I've been doing it all wrong! Apparently garlic does not produce as much allicin when raw, and it is best to crush the garlic first, allowing it to release the enzyme, before ingesting the clove. Looks like I'll be smelling even more garlicky tomorrow than I did today.
I have also heard it is beneficial to rub garlic on the chest, feet and hands during illness. While I cannot find sufficient evidence to support this theory, the studies I have read all say garlic's cure-all power comes from the above-mentioned allicin and that this agent must be digested to do it's thing. So ingesting the garlic, as opposed to rubbing it on yourself, seems like the best bet.
Remedy #3: Drinking Apple Cider Vinegar
I carry a bottle of apple cider vinegar with me just about everywhere. Because of an illness that complicates my digestion, I like to drink the vinegar with every meal to help keep bloating away. Apple cider vinegar boasts benefits ranging from weight loss and detox to teeth whitening. But does it help with a cold? Perhaps.
Drinking vinegar may help with nasal drainage and sinus congestion. The environment vinegar creates in the mouth is not conducive to life for many bacteria, so it may also kill off germs in the throat and mouth.5 It is also highly considered to have strong alkaline properties in the body, and most studies suggest illnesses ranging from mild flus to cancer cannot thrive in alkaline environments.
Like garlic, it stands to reason most benefits from apple cider vinegar come from consuming it on a regular basis rather than using it as a cure come cold season. But like that onion next to my bed, my vinegar will get a workout these next few days. There seem to be no negative side effects as long as the vinegar does not upset your digestion or wear away your tooth enamel.
Good luck warding off those colds. There is nothing worse than missing several days of working out because your body needs to recover from an illness. (And no, it is not good to "sweat it out." In addition to dehydrating and exhausting yourself, you could be getting your fellow gym-goers or yogis sick.) I hope to find you all reeking with the stench of onion, garlic and vinegar to keep your body healthy enough for the gym.
1. Lauren Feder, M.D.,“The Healing Effects of Onion.”
2. Dr. Ruth MacDonald, "Do Onions Absorb Bacteria That Cause Illness?," Published: Feburary 18, 2013, BestFoodFacts.org.
3. Anahad O'Connor, "The Claim: Garlic Can Be Helpful in Warding Off a Cold," The New York Times, published: October 19, 2009.
4. Tara Parker-Pope, "Unlocking the Benefits of Garlic," The New York Times, Published: October 15, 2007.
5. Reader's Digest, 8 Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar.
6. WebMD, Apple Cider Vinegar.
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