Step Aside, Chicken Soup: Make Way for Hot Fruit Drinks

Cold viruses are stubborn germs that need both coaxing -- and time -- to get out of your system. So you might need some help while you're feeling under the weather.

And it need not come from the pharmacy or medicine cabinet.

That's where the time-honored tradition of folk medicine comes into play in cultures and countries both here and abroad.

In the United States, when people get sick, they have been spooning up chicken soup for generations. The comforting golden broth, sometimes referred to as "Jewish or liquid penicillin," appears to have some therapeutic benefits, both from its ingredients and its warmth.

J. Owen Hendley, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics, University of Virginia School of Medicine

And while scientists have done a few studies on the soothing potion, surprisingly, there has not been any clinical research done on the effect of hot drinks on people with cold symptoms.

Until now.

The December issue of the journal "Rhinology" contained results from a very small trial done in Wales. The researchers looked at a group of 30 students, all of whom had cold and flu symptoms for about a week but had not yet taken any remedies or medication to relieve them.

Half the subjects were given slightly less than half a cup of a hot apple and black currant "fruit cordial" to drink, while a control group was served the same beverage at room temperature. (A fruit cordial is a concentrate that's diluted with water before it's consumed.)

Picture of Acupuncturist Jonathan Ammen

Scientists asked the participants to rate their cold symptoms before the study began and after they first drank the purple-colored liquid, as well as 15 and 30 minutes later. The participants were also asked to breathe into a facemask to check on the air flow through their noses.

The hot drink did not make the nose any clearer as measured objectively by the facemask.

But when the participants rated their symptoms, the data found that it eased coughing, sneezing, sore throat, runny nose, chills and fatigue, while the room temperature beverage helped only with coughing, sneezing and a runny nose.

Linda DeLude of Minneapolis, Minn. recalls her husband Barry DeLude, who died as result of complications from the flu in January 2007.

The take-home message from this research, according to its co-author Ronald Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University, which sponsored the study, is that "hot fruit cordial drinks provide immediate and sustained relief from most cold and flu symptoms, especially cough and sore throat."

But the study had limitations. Participants knew the temperature of the juice they were given, so they were not "blinded" to the treatment and their symptom ratings might have been a placebo response to them.

It's also not known whether any other kind of hot liquid could have caused a similar effect besides the specific flavored fruit beverage tested. And, possibly, cold beverages could also do the trick but they were not part of the investigation.

Robin says nasal irrigation can relieve headaches, allergies and colds.

So read on to learn more about black currant juice, one of the fruits used in the recent study, and other sworn-by cold remedies from around the world.

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Perhaps it's the memories of and belief in the healing potential of these folk remedies that make them so powerful to us.

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