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Can a hot toddy help with a cold?

Many people believe in the healing abilities of a hot toddy for colds and flu, but does this popular home remedy work?

A hot toddy is a mixture of hot water, honey, lemon, and whiskey. Some of these ingredients may have beneficial effects, but research has not looked specifically at the effectiveness of hot toddies on the symptoms of a cold.

This article covers whether or not a hot toddy may help with a cold, how to make one, and alternative drinks that could help relieve symptoms.

Can a hot toddy help?

Hot toddy drink of whiskey, tea, cinnamon, lemon, sugar, and honey.
A hot toddy is a drink that combines whiskey, lemon, and honey.

There is currently no cure for the common cold. However, people can usually manage their symptoms using home treatments and by taking over-the-counter medication.

Honey has anti-inflammatory properties and lemon contains powerful antioxidants. Despite this, no research has specifically linked hot toddies to relieving a cold.

Many people believe that drinking a hot toddy can relieve the symptoms of a cold, some of which include:

Hot drinks are among the most common home remedies for colds and flu. One study from 2008 reported that drinking a hot fruit drink reduced sore throat, chillness, and tiredness compared with drinking a room-temperature beverage in 30 people with colds or flu.


Effects of each ingredient

The individual ingredients in a hot toddy may have beneficial effects that can improve the symptoms of a cold. Many people make hot toddies using lemon, honey, ginger, and whiskey.

Lemon

Lemon is rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant that could be useful for treating colds. One systematic review from 2013 suggested that regular doses of vitamin C may reduce the duration and severity of a cold. However, the review also found that vitamin C reduced the risk of a cold occurring in the first place.

Lemon is also an active ingredient in several sore throat medications. A sore throat is a common symptom of a cold.

However, there is currently little scientific evidence suggesting that lemon can treat a sore throat.

Honey

Honey has a long history in medicine, particularly for treating cold symptoms such as a sore throat.

There is a reasonable amount of evidence to suggest that taking a dose of honey before bedtime can reduce cold symptoms in children over the age of 1. This includes reducing coughs and improving the quality of sleep.

However, little evidence is available for these effects in adults.

Ginger

Some people add other spices, such as ginger, to a hot toddy. Ginger is herb with a wide range of uses in traditional medicine.

Ginger has certain properties that may be useful in treating sore throats. For example, ginger has anti-inflammatory effects, which could help relieve a sore throat.

However, there is no evidence to support the effectiveness of ginger itself for treating a sore throat.

That said, there is some evidence to suggest that ginger may be helpful for treating nausea and vomiting. These symptoms may occur in some colds, but this is less common.

Whiskey

Although some ingredients of a hot toddy could therefore improve the symptoms of a cold on their own, it is unclear whether the combination in a hot toddy would reduce cold symptoms.

It is possible that the whiskey element counteracts some of these effects or causes negative effects. Alcohol can cause dehydration and lower immune system function, which may worsen cold symptoms.

Alcohol can also interact with popular cold and flu medication, so a person should exercise caution when mixing alcohol and medication.

How to make a hot toddy

Herbal tea with lemon and honey.
A person can replace whiskey with tea for a nonalcoholic version.

There are many varieties of hot toddy and several different ways of making it. A classic hot toddy includes:

  • water
  • whiskey
  • honey
  • lemon juice
  • a chunk of lemon and cinnamon stick to garnish

To make a hot toddy, boil water in a kettle or saucepan. Mix 25–50 milliliters of whiskey with 3 teaspoons of honey and a splash of lemon juice in a heat-proof container.

Add the boiling water and mix all the ingredients together. Finally, garnish with a chunk of lemon and a cinnamon stick.

To make a nonalcoholic version, swap the whiskey for tea. This can be black, green, or any type of fruit tea.


Alternatives

Many similar alternatives to a hot toddy could help reduce the symptoms of a cold. These could include:

  • lemon and ginger tea
  • honey and lemon tea
  • green tea
  • black tea
  • a fruit smoothie
  • grapefruit or orange juice
  • water


Summary

Although there are no cures for the common cold, people can treat some of the symptoms. A hot toddy contains several ingredients that may be able to reduce cold symptoms, such as lemon, honey, and hot water.

Adding spices, such as ginger, to a hot toddy may also have benefits. There is, however, no evidence to suggest that alcohol can help with the symptoms.

Doctors often recommend that people avoid drinking alcohol when they have a cold or flu. This is because it can reduce immune system function and may make the cold worse.

Overall, though some people find this remedy helpful, research has not yet confirmed whether a hot toddy can reliably help with the symptoms of a cold.

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