Drinking to Your Health

Boozing through the Common Cold

When I was a teenager with a bad cold, my hilarious pediatrician told me to drink plenty of liquids, and added, "I don't care if you drink a bottle of whiskey, just keep drinking." The city has finally succumbed to the cruel reality of true winter weather, and the subways are filled with sniffling, hacking slobs. It's generally accepted that when the mucus moves in, the sickly should stay out of the bars and under the covers, but could there be some truth to the doctor's joke? Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but there is a long history of boozy home remedies for the common cold—during prohibition, exceptions were made for medicinal uses of alcohol—and modern day over-the-counter medicines are chock full of alcohol, right?

Is boozing justifiable even if you have to bring a box of tissues with you to the pub? We choose to believe it is, and here's what to order:

Brandy: Many grannies still swear by a swig of the brown stuff to warm up the chest and clear the head. Plus it's easy to disguise it as a necessary remedy: just mix with hot water or tea.

Hot Toddy: Yes! WebMD, the site where hypochondriacs go to dream, also validates the urge to drink when you're sick. On a list of "12 Tips to Treat Colds and Flu the 'Natural' Way," sipping a hot toddy rates number 6 (between gargling and steamy showers.) Hot liquids are good for congestion, and a nightcap can help you sleep, so perhaps this theory can be applied to any hot cocktail. "If you're so congested you can't sleep at night, try a hot toddy, an age-old remedy. Make a cup of hot herbal tea. Add one teaspoon of honey and one small shot (about one ounce) of whiskey or bourbon." But even a virtual doctor can be a party pooper—the web doc adds, "Limit yourself to one. Too much alcohol inflames those membranes and is counterproductive."

Mulled Beer: You might have to whip this one up yourself, since it hasn't come back into style the way mulled wine has. (There's hardly a worse offense in this country than serving a warm beer.) But for centuries, beer was drunk at room temperature or hot in Europe, a custom that traveled to this country with colonial settlers and then immediately fell out of style with the advent of refrigeration. Mulled beer is flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, honey, and brown sugar, and according to the Medieval Book of Notable Things, it works to "dissolve congealed phlegm upon the lungs, and is therefore good gainst colds, coughs," and a number of other ailments, including an upset stomach.

Red Wine: A few years ago, a study out of Spain looked at alcohol intake and the common cold and found that drinking beer or liquor didn't affect one's chances of getting sick; in fact, wine—especially red wine—actually seemed to reduce the susceptibility to those subway germs. So, not sniffling yet? Get out the corkscrew.

 
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