Will whiskey help a cold? Myths and facts about cold remedies

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Although the common cold has no cure, there are many rumors of cures, including that drinking whiskey can help reduce cold symptoms.

Unfortunately, throwing away a drink or mixing up a hot toddy won’t help fight a cold. In fact, it could make your cold last longer.

This article will help you explain why whiskey won’t help a cold. Plus, we’ll look at some cold remedies that can actually help relieve your symptoms.

There are many thoughts on why whiskey is useful for a cold. Let’s take a look at some of the most common and if there is any scientific evidence to support these claims.

Myth: Alcohol is a disinfectant, so it can help you beat a cold

One of the theories why whiskey can help treat a cold is that alcohol is a disinfectant. It’s true that alcohol is a key part of hand sanitizers, which help kill germs that you can pick up when you touch contaminated surfaces.

However, alcohol is only effective as a topical disinfectant. In other words, it works on the surface of your skin, but not as a disinfectant when you drink it. This means that alcohol does not help kill cold viruses or other germs inside your body.

Myth: The decongestant properties of alcohol can help treat cold symptoms

It is said that alcohol works as a decongestant, but in reality, the opposite is true.

Small amounts of alcohol can cause vasodilation – widening of blood vessels – which can make a runny nose or congestion worse. Medications containing pseudoephedrine will constrict blood vessels (vasoconstriction), which is why they can help relieve congestion.

Additionally, there are several natural decongestants that can help ease your congestion, such as:

Myth: Alcohol is a cough suppressant

Alcohol is added to cough medicine, but it’s probably not for the reason you think. Some of the compounds found in cough medicines do not dissolve easily in water, but do dissolve in ethanol (alcohol).

Therefore, cough syrup manufacturers may incorporate a small amount of alcohol in order for the medications to mix. Alcohol can also act as a preservative for cough medicines, which helps extend the shelf life of these products.

This means that alcohol, like whiskey, does not act as a cough suppressant in cough medicine. Instead, it’s just a base for mixing in other key ingredients.

Fact: Alcohol is immunosuppressive

Not only is alcohol ineffective at fighting a cold, it can also make your symptoms worse. The reason is due to alcohol immunosuppressive effect. So drinking alcohol, even in moderate amounts, can weaken your immune system and prevent your body from fighting off infections, such as the common cold.

Alcohol can also dehydrate you by removing fluid from your body through the kidneys. When you have a cold, it’s important to drink fluids that keep you hydrated. It can help flush toxins from your body, thin mucus in your respiratory system, and make you feel better.

Due to the immunosuppressive and dehydrating effects of alcohol, it is not recommended as a cold remedy.

A toddy is a cold remedy that contains hot water, lemon juice, honey, and alcohol, such as brandy, rum, or whiskey. Although hot toddies may seem like a tasty remedy, the alcohol in the drink isn’t what’s likely to make you feel better.

The combination of heat, steam and liquids can help relieve symptoms like stuffy nose and sore throat. Additionally, research has shown that honey has antimicrobial properties that may make it an effective treatment for certain cold symptoms, especially coughs.

Whiskey is the only ingredient in hot toddy that is unlikely to help relieve symptoms of a cold due to its dehydrating and immunosuppressive effects.

Instead of adding whiskey, you can try non-alcoholic toddy or consider other hot beverages that might be more filling. Examples include lemon tea with honey, vegetable broth, or chicken soup.

Alcohol isn’t the only supposedly ineffective cold remedy. Ginseng, echinacea, vitamin C, and vitamin D supplements have not been shown to be effective as cold remedies.

Antibiotics are also ineffective against colds because they treat bacterial infections, not viruses like those that cause colds.

However, according to research, certain remedies may be helpful in reducing cold symptoms until your body can eliminate the virus. These include:

  • Zinc: Taking 80 to 92 mg (milligrams) of zinc daily can help reduce the duration and severity of the common cold. For maximum effectiveness, start taking zinc within 3 days of the onset of your cold.
  • Lactobacillus casei: According to research, consuming 200 g (grams) per day of dairy products containing the probiotic Lactobacillus casei can shorten the duration of a cold, especially in the elderly.
  • Honey: As mentioned earlier, the antimicrobial properties of honey can help relieve cold symptoms, especially coughs, in adults and children 2 years and older. Do not give honey to a child under 12 months old as it can cause infant botulism in young children.
  • Topical Steam Rub: To research showed that applying a spray to the skin containing camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oil may be helpful in reducing cough, congestion, and sleep disturbances associated with colds.

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, can also help reduce cold-related discomfort. However, they will not shorten the duration of your cold.

Whiskey is not recommended as a cold remedy. In fact, it could make your cold symptoms worse due to its dehydrating and immunosuppressive effects.

Instead of whiskey, consider lukewarm water or lemon-honey tea. Other remedies that may be effective include zinc, dairy products that contain Lactobacillus casei probiotics, topical spray, and over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.


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