This winter, there's a good chance you might be looking for anything and everything to rid yourself of an annoying, lingering and sometimes debilitating cold.
You may want to add yogurt to your list of cold-fighting remedies.
"When it comes to yogurt specifically, I'd say there's not a lot of research that we can point to that indicates yogurt reduces symptoms of a cold," said Mickey Rubin, vice president of nutrition research for the National Dairy Council. That being said, "There are some things (in yogurt) we can point to that, in theory, would be beneficial."
For example, yogurt is full of probiotics, which can help boost the immune system, according to Kristi L. King, a senior registered dietitian at Texas Children's Hospital and a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Studies that have looked at probiotics have found promising results in terms of reducing the duration and incidence of colds. However, specific benefits can only be attributed to the actual strains studied -- which do not necessarily exist in regular, non-supplemented yogurt, according to Rubin. For example, conventional yogurt contains Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus -- two cultures that are integral to the yogurt making process, and as such are known as "starter cultures." While these are beneficial bacteria, they are not necessarily the same probiotics that have been studied in clinical trials, according to Rubin.
"We know yogurt is a nutritious food choice and we know probiotics are beneficial to health, so including them in an overall healthy eating plan makes sense, but recommending them specifically for the common cold would be premature," said Rubin.
Yogurt also contains another immune booster: zinc. Research indicates that zinc can reduce the duration of cold symptoms, but the amounts of zinc needed for benefits -- at least 75 milligrams -- is much higher than the 2 milligrams present in an 8-ounce cup of yogurt.
Carbohydrates in yogurt provide energy, which are important in helping you recover from a cold, according to King. And one recent study, funded by the National Dairy Council, found that when women consumed yogurt every day for nine weeks, they had reduced inflammatory markers in their blood -- findings that suggest a mechanism by which yogurt might be helpful in fighting off cold symptoms.
"The common cold and its symptoms are an inflammatory response to the bug ... such that if yogurt or other foods reduced inflammation, it could in theory be beneficial -- but we need more research to know for sure," said Rubin.
The bottom line
Though the ability of yogurt to help fight a cold is, at best, theoretical right now, experts say there's no good reason not to choose yogurt when you have the sniffles or difficulty swallowing.
"I wouldn't rely solely on yogurt to fight the cold, but in conjunction with a healthy diet, yogurt may be beneficial," said King.
"Yogurt is smooth and goes down easy, so if you have a sore throat, or even a runny nose, it's comfortable to eat," added Rubin.
So choose yogurt for its soothing texture and nutritional attributes, which include calcium and vitamin D, along with possible cold fighters like zinc and probiotics -- but not necessarily as a primary therapy for a cold.
For maximum benefits, King recommends eating plain yogurt with other antioxidant-rich foods, such as berries, which contribute natural sweetness, in addition to more cold-fighting nutrients. "Pairing yogurt with blueberries or strawberries will give you an extra dose of vitamin C and antioxidants to fight the cold off," she said.