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Which Home Remedies for Cold and Flu Work?

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As we suffer through cold and flu season many turn to home remedies ranging from the tried and true chicken soup to herbal remedies such as echinacea. But do any of them work?

Dr. Leo Galland, the author of Power Healing, is an internist and director of the Foundation for Integrated Medicine, whose purpose is to integrate, nutritional and environmental approaches with conventional medicine. He spoke to Good Morning America about a variety of home remedies, separating the good ones from those that are just old wives' tales.

Chicken Soup Magic: Chicken soup is a "folk remedy," but it does work, Galland said. There are a number of scientific studies that show that chicken soup actually increases the flow of mucous and relieves respiratory inflammation. Any hot liquid will help, but controlled scientific studies have shown that chicken soup somehow performed better than just hot water. It appears to have something to do with the soup's aroma, because the studies showed that the effect was not as great for those who drank the soup through a straw. It is better to drink it from a cup, or a bowl. The effect comes entirely from the broth, by the way, not from any pieces of chicken in the soup, the studies found.

Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever? Don't buy into the old adage, "feed a cold, starve a fever," Galland said. In old English, the expression actually translated into "Feed a cold, and die of fever." At the time, doctors thought that cold sufferers should eat less to get better. Over time, the language changed, and people jumbled up the meaning. Now, some people think it means that if you eat a lot you'll get rid of your cold, and if you don't eat, you can fight a fever. Neither statement is correct. Just eat according to your appetite, Galland said. Zinc Results Mixed: Zinc has been tested for colds, with conflicting results, Galland said. One study showed it reduced a cold's severity.

However, the zinc lozenges on the market may not be exactly the same formulation as the zinc used in that study. There is also a zinc gel on the market that is similar to the kind of zinc formulation that was studied.

Echinacea for Colds? Echinacea is a very popular natural remedy, but the results are mixed. One recent study shows it does not help to prevent or shorten the duration of colds. Some small studies show it does have a benefit for cold sufferers, Galland said. And one recent study shows some benefit in shortening the duration of the flu. Echinacea is generally safe, but it can cause allergic reactions.

Chest Rub Medicine: The smelly medicine that your mother insisted on rubbing on your chest as a child can work, to some degree. Rub-on salves have been shown to do some good in relieving bronchitis, which is sometimes a complication of the flu, Galland said. They have been shown to aid in clearing particles from the lungs and in easing breathing and restlessness in children. One study specifically studied Vicks VapoRub and found that it was effective.

Orange Juice: Drinking a glass of OJ to relieve your cold or flu is not likely to have any benefits unless you have had a very low vitamin C intake. Otherwise, a glass or two of orange juice isn't going to make a big difference. Help From Humidifiers: The evidence suggests that humidifiers may help prevent flu germs from spreading as flu germs survive best in very high and very low humidity, Galland said. They do worst in the mid-range, 30 percent to 50 percent humidity. In that range they're least likely to stay airborne, which means you can inhale them, and survive. But the key is that you need to use the humidifier to regulate the humidity. If you over-humidify the area, you could just be making things worse. So you should invest in a humidity meter. Based on what we know about how flu germs spread, humidifiers are probably useful. However, there are no specific studies of humidifiers and the flu.

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