There have been countless folk remedies used by previous generations of people to treat, prevent and even cure the common cold, but despite some anecdotal claims of success, mainstream medicine does not recognize any plant, nutrient or drug capable of curing the viral infection. Instead, medical strategies are aimed at managing symptoms until the cold runs its course. Consequently, green tea is not a recognized cure for the common cold, but it may nonetheless be a beverage you might consider drinking, because it contains compounds that stimulate your immune system and retard the growth and proliferation of some pathogens.
Green tea is made from the Camellia sinensis plant, which is native to China and dates back thousands of years. Green tea is not only a tasty beverage, but it’s a well-recognized medicinal herb by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, naturopathy and herbology. Hot green tea, which is more accurately called an herbal infusion or tisane, is the most popular mode of consuming the plant, although green tea liquid extracts and capsules have also become readily available over the last couple decades in American health-food stores and pharmacies. Some shampoos and skin care products even contain green tea compounds.
The Common Cold
The common cold is best described as an upper respiratory viral infection that typically causes a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, sore throat and mild fever. It really is common because it leads to over one billion colds in the United States each year, which is over three per person on average. The common cold is caused by over 200 different viruses; many are classified as rhinoviruses. Colds can last up to three weeks and are almost always self-limiting. Cold viruses are infectious because they are able to spread through body fluids and secretions such as mucus.
Green Tea as a Remedy
Green tea is rich in compounds called polyphenols, catechins and flavonoids, which display antioxidant, antimicrobial, alkalizing and immune-stimulating qualities. Green tea compounds not only help protect tissues from infection and boost immune response to infectious agents, but some also directly kill certain bacteria, viruses and fungi. That doesn’t mean that drinking green tea will protect you from all the viruses that can cause upper respiratory infections, but it could reduce the strength and duration of symptoms, and might be able to directly combat some of the causative agents. In addition, the condition of your immune system, as well as your overall health status, living conditions, dietary habits and the type and amount of green tea you drink are all factors that affect whether or not you’ll catch a cold.
Don’t rely solely on green tea to protect you from the common cold. Instead, take care not to run yourself down. Focus on controlling stress levels, getting enough restful sleep and eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables rich in vitamin C and other immune-boosting nutrients. Avoid excessive alcohol and sugary drinks. When buying green tea, get the least processed brands, which are usually sold as loose-leaf. When making green tea, avoid using boiling hot water because it can destroy some of the leaves' beneficial compounds. Once it is cool enough to consume, consider gargling with it if you have a sore throat or cough.
- Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine; A. Fauci et al.
- Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Reference: Evidence-based Clinical Reviews; Catherine E. Ulbricht and Ethan M. Basch
- Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine; Simon Mills and Kerry Bone
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.