6 Science-Backed Natural Ways To Ease Your Next Cold

Skip the pharmacy in favor of these all-natural cold remedies.

December 8, 2016
kid blowing nose
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The symptoms of the common cold are all too easy to spot: sneezing, a runny stuffed-up nose, sore throat, cough, and that general feeling of blah. What isn’t as easily identifiable is how to lessen the blow of said symptoms—and put yourself on a faster track to recovery.

“Colds last on average for one week,” says Lili Lustig, DO, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic. “Mild colds may last only two or three days while severe colds may last for up to two weeks.” Typically, you’ll suffer two or three colds a year. But fortunately, there are proven ways to make your cold time a little less painful. These five don’t involve a trip down the cold medicine aisle at all.

(See how easy it is to grow your own remedies for joint pain, heartburn, cold symptoms, and 30+ other ailments with Rodale's Grow It Heal It!)

slippery elm
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Consider A Supplement

“People take slippery elm for coughs, sore throat, colic, diarrhea, constipation, hemorrhoids, and irritable bowel syndrome,” says Lustig. The herb is high in mucilage, which creates a thick substance that might soothe sore throats.

Supplement with zinc—an essential mineral important for body an immune function—and you might see some relief from your cold. While the research on the topic is mixed, a new review of past studies suggests that taking zinc may cut the time adults have to suffer with a common cold, notes Lustig. But heads up: Zinc lozenges or supplementation can come with unpleasant side effects, like nausea and bad breath.

As for products like Emergen-C that load you up with vitamin C? Some research suggests that while supplementing with C won’t cut down how often you get sick, adding more of the vitamin into your diet might help shorten how long you feel lousy for (here are 9 foods with more vitamin C than an orange).

Lustig suggests listening to your body. “If you get relief from vitamin C, then go ahead and use it,” she says. After all, who cares if it’s a placebo effect that’s at play? Plus, it can’t hurt: “Vitamin C’s natural function in the body is for tissue restoration. If your throat is raw, the vitamin C will help.” Just make sure to talk to your doc about any supplements you’re taking. Here are 7 signs you need a supplement.

ice water
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Drink Up

You’ve heard fluids are your friend when you’re sick, but here’s why: When you’re stuffed up—and breathing through your mouth—you lose more fluids than when you breathe through your nose, explains Lustig. Also, adequate amounts of H20 help your body with its natural detoxification, she says. “If we don't have enough fluids, we can’t get rid of the things we need to.” Proper hydration works to thin mucus, too—helping you to expel it. Plus, it resupplies you with all of the fluids you’re losing from sneezing, coughing, and blowing. If you can't stomach the idea of guzzling more H20, here are 12 fruit and water combos you're going to love.

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Keep Moisturized

Nose painfully raw? Thanks, tissues! Prep dry or cracked skin for bed by applying a moisturizing ointment such as aloe vera or moisturizing facial oils that contain vitamin E or soothing ingredients like eucalyptus, suggests Melissa Levin, MD, a dermatologist at Marmur Medical in New York and a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine. (These 10 organic nighttime moisturizers will take care of the rest of your face.)

Related: 9 Science-Backed Remedies To Ease Your Next Bout Of The Flu

chicken soup
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Eat Chicken Soup

Yep, just like mom said. “Truly it helps open up the sinuses,” notes Lustig. While researchers aren’t exactly sure what’s at play here, there’s a slew of literature on the topic of chicken soup and the common cold. A few theories: Steamy liquids help move mucus along; and good-for-you ingredients—chicken, onions, carrots, celery, parsley—boost your immune system.

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Breathe Easier

Harsh dry, air can be tough on your skin and your lungs—even more so when you’re struggling to breathe in the first place. “A humidifier can help with keeping skin hydrated and keeping the air moisturized during winter months,” says Levin. Another way to create humid air: Hop in a hot shower—it’s a natural way to open up your sinuses and help (temporarily) clear you up.

blowing your nose
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Stop Blowing So Much

Blowing your nose over and over again not only leads to dry skin and pain, but there's a better bet: “Irrigate the nose with saline spray or a neti pot with warm saline water which allows for decongesting the nose without having to blow the nose aggressively,” says Levin. Here's how to use a neti pot the right way.