It may not be exactly what the doctor means when they tell you to “get plenty of fluids,” but the folk wisdom is clear. If you’re feeling under the weather, have a bit of whiskey. Old-world grandmas and tipsy uncles have been saying it for generations. But is there any truth to the claim that whiskey can cure a cold?
In one sense, no, because there’s no real cure for the common cold. It’s a virus, which means it can’t be treated with antibiotics. Over-the-counter cold medicine just masks the symptoms. The only thing to do, unfortunately, is to wait – sometimes a week or more – until your body fights off the infection.
However, a nip of whiskey when you’re battling a stuffy nose and itchy throat can, at least, help you feel a little better in the meantime. Dr. William Schaffner from Vanderbilt University told ABC news a few years back that, while alcohol has no effect on the bug itself, “the alcohol dilates blood vessels a little bit, and that makes it easier for your mucus membranes to deal with the infection.”
And, if you enjoy your whiskey in hot toddy format, you might get another dose of benefits. Warm, steamy liquids like chicken soup or hot water can help make your nose feel less plugged up, a phenomenon Dr. Schaffner says applies to hot cocktails, too. Plus, if you’re really lucky, that hot toddy will also relax you for a long, restful night of sleep, another thing doctors say is important to recover from an illness.
Just don’t overdo it. It’s easy to get dehydrated when you’ve got a cold, and alcohol is a diuretic that can lead to dehydration. And a whiskey on the rocks could make you feel even worse; this study found that drinking cold liquids actually increases nasal congestion.
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Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...