The folklore goes that a hot toddy – the alcoholic drink composed of hot water, lemon juice, honey and whiskey or rum or brandy – can soothe your sore throat or clear your winter cold-induced congestion.
And many people are believers.
Sarah Belizaire-Butler, 39, a company director at BB Comms from London who lives in Madrid, told USA TODAY her Irish grandfather got her into the remedy.
“I remember him teaching me how to make one when my mum had a cold, and it seemed to work for her,” she said. “When my husband is sick and I don’t know how to help, I make a hot toddy, and within an hour or so he’s feeling brighter.”
Belizaire-Butler said she’s not sure whether it’s the whiskey or the honey or the fact that a warm drink makes you feel better from the inside out, but it “always seems to do the trick.”
Her grandfather believed that whiskey had healing properties beyond colds, she added, noting he used to dab whiskey on her gums while she was teething (a practice banned by U.S. public health agencies and not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics).
Michelle Plett, 37, a creative director from Toronto, was living in the U.K. when a friend from Colorado suggested she try a hot toddy to help with a cold.
“(They) got me hooked because it worked,” Plett told USA TODAY. “I have evolved my recipe, but I boil lemons and ginger, then let simmer for 20 minutes. I then add honey and a little whiskey, and voila!”
She uses toddys for “any sort” of cold or flu and finds it helps with decongestion. She also sleeps well after drinking one, which she says helps her heal.
But can the drink really help with symptoms of the common cold? The answer is yes – to a degree – according to experts of the cocktail and medical variety.
Gabe Urrutia, a Bacardi Single Malts ambassador, told USA TODAY that the ingredients that make up a hot toddy can help you feel better – though he doubts a doctor would prescribe the drink as a “cure-all.”
“The honey for a sore throat soothes the ache, and the lemon gives you a good dose of vitamin C,” Urrutia said. “I know some of the stories I’ve heard of grandpa’s old cough medicine sometimes included honey and lemon. The aromas are comforting; the warmth gives you a sense of solace, as well.”
The combined factors, Urrutia believes, could help you feel better. Eric Ascher, a doctor practicing family medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said that while a hot toddy does have medicinal properties, they don’t come from the alcohol.
“Hot toddies, as the name implies, are served hot. Heat does wonders for someone when sick. A hot beverage can soothe the throat and can provide someone who has shaking (with) chills the feeling and comfort of a warm hug,” Ascher said.
The heat also helps to break down and thin out mucus to help clear it from the body.
Ginger Hultin, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of ChampagneNutrition, echoes Ascher’s point that “heat and hydration” are soothing. There also might be antimicrobial aspects of honey that could help with a cold, but Hultin warns “alcohol can irritate the tissues in the throat.”
Not to mention that alcohol can depress the immune system and cause dehydration.
“Alcohol causes many changes to occur at a cellular level in our body. When our body is fighting illness, adding another variable like alcohol is not encouraged,” Ascher said. “We prefer to filter the toxins already in our body when we are ill and not add unnecessary excess.”
Instead, try a hot cup of herbal tea with lemon and honey – minus the booze, Hultin advises.
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