Home remedies for colds – does science back it?


Waking up with an unexpected sore, scratchy throat and a dripping nose is pretty bad. Looking around in the cupboards and not finding a left-over leaf of cold and flu medication is worse. All you can do now is turn to whatever’s left in the kitchen cabinet for some relief, just like mum did when you were younger. Home remedies for cold, like lemons, honey and chicken soups have been passed down for generations but are they as effective as your mum insists they are? Matt Legge, Research and Development Director at ATP Science sat down to discuss the science behind them on the ATP podcast. 


Lemons are full of vitamin C and bioflavonoids (phytonutrients from citrus fruits that have a whole lot of antioxidant power) which are great for boosting immune system. However, there is conflicting evidence on the full effects of vitamin C on colds. For the most part, it seems that vitamin C won’t help prevent colds for the average person. However, taking vitamin C before or as soon as you notice cold symptoms setting in may shorten the duration and reduce the severity of the cold. 




Honey contains many antimicrobial properties, derived from the hydrogen peroxide found in it, which is effective in fighting bacteria. Some kinds of honey, such as Manuka honey, can be up 100 times more potent in antimicrobial properties than others. 

According to one study, honey is more effective at relieving coughs than over-the-counter medicines that contain dextromethorphan, a common cough suppressant. Research shows that it could be effective at reducing or reliving the symptoms of a bad coughs brought on by upper respiratory tract infections, or infections of the breathing airways.

Chicken Soup

One particularly famous research study has shown that chicken soup is effective in inhibiting neutrophil migration. Neutrophil are a type of white blood cell that play a huge part in fighting an infection in your body. While these little soldier cells are fighting off the infection, their activities result in inflammation within the body and can result in sneezing, coughing, increase in mucus and congestion. Chicken soup is thought to immobilise neutrophil as well as have anti-inflammatory properties, sourced from the vitamins and minerals in added vegetables. Other vegetables like celery, carrots and potatoes added to the soup offer electrolytes and magnesium, both of which are often lost due to loss of body fluids and minerals when sick with a cold or flu. 

For best results, Matt recommends eating chicken soup while it’s piping hot. Hot fluids are known to increase movement of mucus in the nose, clear airways and reduce congestion. 

Before making any changes to your current lifestyle and incorporating these home remedies into your cold recovery game plan, please discuss any information in this article with your healthcare professional. You can find more information on the  ATP Science Podcast