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Health: Zinc may ‘help reduce length of respiratory infections’ – what else really works?

We all want to find cold remedies that actually work.

Always curious about ways to help combat infections like colds and flu? Zinc is the latest mineral in the spotlight – a new study has found taking a daily zinc supplement “may cut how long respiratory infections last”.

It’s important to note that the research, which reviewed 28 existing studies, did not include data specific to Covid-19. But respiratory tract infections (RTIs) can include common cold, flu, sinus, throat and lung infection symptoms – like coughs, stuffed and runny noses, headaches, high temperatures and associated pain.

Published in the journal BMJ Open, it found people who regularly took zinc had fewer RTIs overall, and their symptoms cleared up more quickly when they did.

Of course, when it comes to infections like colds and flu, the best line of defence is to avoid spreading and catching them. Plus there are always other factors to consider – such as our individual general health and immune response, and lifestyle factors like how much sleep we’re getting and how much alcohol we’re drinking.

But are there things that can give us a helping hand with fighting off a cold? In terms of scientific research, the evidence tends to point at ways to help relieve symptoms, rather than “cure” the infection – which our body should be able to fight off in time.

Here’s a look at some classic cold remedies and how they may help…

Chicken soup

Even if you’ve never had a loved one prepare chicken soup for you when you’ve been bunged up with a cold, you’ve probably seen it happen on TV – and there is logic to this tradition. Chicken soup is packed with phytonutrients (found in garlic, onions and other veg and great for supporting immune function) and anti-inflammatory properties.

There are numerous reasons that chicken soup is good for you.

Studies have also suggested carnosine, a compound found in chicken, could help calm nasal congestion. But even if it’s just a placebo effect, a steaming bowl of TLC made with love is never going to hurt.

Vitamin C

Popping some extra vitamin C when you’re run down with an infection is another classic, whether through supplements, fruit or juice. Studies have looked at whether this actually works, but overall, there’s no solid evidence it does.

That’s not to say vitamin C isn’t very important and helpful for healthy immune systems – that much is clear. We also need it for our bones, skin and absorbing iron. It’s more about understanding how immune function works: we want to be supporting it in a general sense, rather than relying on a “quick boost” when we get ill.

It is important to get enough vitamin C.

So if you keep getting run down and seem to catch every cold going, it could be worth having a look at your diet and lifestyle in general, and booking a chat with your GP.


Spices feature heavily in many traditional medicine and healthcare systems, including Ayurveda from India. While small, spices can pack a mighty punch in terms of health-promoting properties.

When it comes to immune function and anti-inflammatory goodness, key examples are turmeric, cinnamon and ginger. In fact, ginger is known to be excellent for soothing the stomach and nausea too, which could be handy if a bout of flu leaves you feeling unsettled and sickly.

Liquorice, for example, is said to have anti-viral effects, while thyme is hailed as being helpful for easing congestion, and the menthol in mint can help open up nasal passages.

As well as adding spices to cooking, brewing them up in a tea is a simple, soothing option, where you’ll get the benefits of breathing in the steamy zincaromas too, which can help when you’re bunged up.


This natural sweetener is famed for its antimicrobial and antibacterial properties and mixing up a cup of honey and lemon tea when you’re full of cold, or feel one coming on, is an age-old remedy. Research has also found honey may help reduce cough symptoms.

Warm honey and lemon can be very soothing for a sore throat.