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Greene: Cold Remedies

03/13/12 7:55AM By Stephanie Greene
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(Host) Commentator and free-lance writer Stephanie Greene has been reflecting on the power of belief in her perennial battle with the common cold.

(Greene) All winter long I guard against colds, fretting like a 5th century Irishwoman scanning the sea for Viking invaders. As a result, I’m also always on the lookout for cold remedies, and I’ve collected quite a few. Some are grounded in nutrition and common sense, while others are, well, pure superstition. We all know that the best line of defense against the common cold is good nutrition, exercise and adequate rest; but we often fall short, and that’s when we need a good back-up.

I once had a Mexican friend who was a composer. She had spent time studying in Moscow, where she developed what she claimed was a foolproof method of cold prevention. At the first sign of a scratchy throat, she’d take a whole lemon, chop it up, toss it into a blender with water and sugar, then down the whole mixture - seeds, peel and all. She swore by it; she insisted that she hadn’t had a cold in years. So I tried it; and, though it was indeed a bracing drink, it only relieved my symptoms for about two minutes.

Another time, when I lived in Oakland, California, I was eager to head off a cold, so I ate four cloves of raw garlic before jumping onto a crowded BART train headed for San Francisco. I was on my way to a piano lesson, and I couldn’t understand why there was a ring of empty seats all around me. When I got to my destination, my teacher’s housemate staggered into the room crying, “What is that Horrible Smell?” Finally, I understood. The virus was a goner; but so, for awhile, was my social life.

So far, the only sure fire remedy for me is deep sleep - especially if I dose myself beforehand with hops and spearmint tea. Though I have loved Echinacea, in a very unscientific way, for a very long time. By force of sheer belief, it often works for me. So I wasn’t surprised to read in a recent New Yorker article on the effectiveness of placebos, that research is showing that belief can play a powerful role in wellness, pain relief, and immunity.

Aha! I thought. So that’s why snake oil has, over the years, sometimes worked! Believe deeply in that Moscow lemonade, Echinacea, or garlic. Imagine yourself better and you’re halfway home.

Of course, an herbalist I know observes that cold viruses reproduce very quickly, so when you feel symptoms coming on, you should dose yourself often – like every 15 minutes – for any remedy to work.

And since all this prevention requires a lot of effort and concentration, you’ll probably end up exhausted anyway, so why fight it? It’s a huge relief to give up and go to bed, reading, honking and snoozing away. After all - it’s probably what you wanted to do all along.
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