Everyone seems to have a custom “miracle cure” for the common cold, and it seems the more creative the solution, the less bashful they are about sharing. People swear by everything from normal-ish cures (Vitamin C, getting fresh air, hydrating, resting, and chicken soup—preferably mom’s, of course) to the woo-woo (essential oils, alternative medication, and coating your feet with Vicks Vapor Rub and wearing a pair of socks overnight) to the downright cray (chopping and eating a raw yellow onion followed by a warm bath or a long shower to open the pores, or wearing socks filled with peeled onion layers).
Is the common cold really so wimpy that it can be defeated by a menthol, socks, and a bubble bath? Luckily, science is here to help. The answer lies in an interesting piece of research by Dr. Bruce Barrett at the University of Wisconsin.
In Barrett’s study, cold sufferers were split into four groups—one group was given no pills, a second and third group were each given Echinacea or a placebo but were not told which pill they received, and a fourth group was given Echinacea and was told it was Echinacea. Each participant was asked to rate the effectiveness of the medicinal herb Echinacea.
The results were surprising: The illnesses of people who believed in Echinacea and received pills were considerably shorter and less severe—regardless of whether or not the pills contained Echinacea.
What does that mean? “A positive outlook matters,” says Barrett. If someone believes a cold remedy works, it just might. No one knows for sure why. Barrett says that the manner in which the brain stimulates healing mechanisms through positive expectations is not entirely understood. But this certainly helps explain why there is a seemingly endless list of pharmaceuticals, alternative treatments, and quirky home remedies for treating the common cold.
As a practicing family doctor, Barrett strongly encourages the use of non-pharmaceutical cold remedies. That doesn’t have to mean popping Echinacea or messing around with essential oils, though. There are a few no-fail practices you can call on to help fight your cold (in addition to that positive mindset, of course.
Swipe right for those.