To cure or not to cure: The truth behind home remedies

Sara Browning

Have you ever heard the ancient adage, “Feed a cold, starve a fever,” or been nursed back to health with a bowl of Mom’s homemade chicken soup?

If so, you may have fallen victim to some of the many medical myths said to cure common ailments. Few medical studies exist to support these miracle cures.

Local medical experts, however, can unravel the myths and unveil the truth behind beating what ails you.

Feed a cold, feed a fever

“Starving” one’s body during a fever can bring about harmful repercussions, especially when the immune system requires more ammunition than usual to fight symptoms.

“You should never starve a fever,” says Dr. Gerald Suchomski, a family practice physician at Family Medical Center in Chatham, Ill., part of Memorial Physician Services. “The body is in an aggressive state as it fights off symptoms and needs as many nutrients as possible.” 

When flu and cold symptoms arise, hot liquids relieve nasal congestion and soothe the inflamed membranes that line the nose and throat. Drink at least eight to 10 eight-ounce glasses of water per day.

Avoid hot toddies, a popular folk remedy, when you have cold symptoms. Alcohol dehydrates the body and lowers body temperature.

Fighting flu

Chicken noodle soup has long been the popular “go-to” for relief from flu symptoms. According to, studies have shown chicken soup improves the function of cilia, tiny hair-like projections in the nasal passages that protect the body from foreign bacteria and viruses.

However, chicken soup may prove detrimental to flu sufferers because it contains large amounts of sodium, which may lead to dehydration.

“(Chicken soup) is soothing, but we don’t have a handle on any one ingredient that fights off an infection,” Suchomski says.

Antibiotics also are popular to use to fight flu symptoms that last longer than two days. Although antibiotics help stave off bacteria, they do little to remedy a viral infection, such as the flu. However, if a bacterial infection develops while flu symptoms persist, a physician may recommend antibiotics to combat the infection.

“Viruses can run anywhere from seven to 10 days,” Suchomski says. “Usually, a person will experience the worst symptoms on day four or five. If it has been five days and a person is not getting better, there may be a bacterial infection, in which case, you’ll want to use antibiotics.”

Chasing away the cold

Vitamin C has often been promoted as a preventative for cold symptoms or as an antidote that will cure symptoms quickly.

“(The Vitamin C cure) hails back to the 1970s and 1980s when Linus Pauling came out with a study that showed Vitamin C reduced colds,” Suchomski says. “Eventually, the study was reproduced and found to be invalid from a scientific standpoint.” 

Cures that work

To ease congestion, scientific studies have shown that saline (salt water) nasal spray thins mucus, decreases postnasal drip, and adds moisture to dried mucus membranes. Find a popular saline recipe by going online at and clicking on “home remedies for fast flu relief.”

Over-the-counter cough syrups, cough suppressants, or topical cough syrups, such as a menthol rub for the chest, work wonders for children (4 years old and up) and adults with dry cough, a common cold and flu symptom. Sugar-free hard candy or cough drops also help calm a tickle in the throat.

True or false?

- Drinking a glass of milk can help relieve heartburn caused when stomach acid backs into the esophagus.

This is false. Although milk does act as a temporary buffer against stomach acid, the fat found in milk and dairy products actually stimulates the stomach to produce more acid.

Baking soda and water, however, is a healthful mixture to ease the pain of heartburn. “(The mixture) helps alleviate heartburn by neutralizing acid in the stomach,” Suchomski says.

- Cranberry juice can help cure urinary infections.

This is apparently true. “Cranberry juice decreases the acidity in the urine and makes bacteria go away,” Suchomski says. “People who are susceptible, such as the elderly, can take cranberry juice on a regular basis to decrease the frequency of infection.”

- Aloe vera can help relieve pain from scrapes and burns.

This is also true, and based on legitimate studies.

“The juice in aloe is anti-inflammatory in nature,” Suchomski says, “so topical aloe for sunburns is good.”

When it comes to curing common symptoms, speak with your family physician to seek out healthful solutions. 

The State Journal-Register