Can a Hot Toddy Actually Help You Feel Better When You’re Sick?

Photo: Stocksy/Cameron Whitman
When you’re stuck in bed coughing up a lung, you’ll basically agree to drink any potion that promises an instant cure. And while hot toddies have long been a feel-good wintry cocktail of choice, certain folks claim it helps them feel better when they’re sick, too.

But is there any truth to their immune-boosting benefits? Yes and no.

First, the good news: a hot toddy, made of whiskey, water, honey, and sometimes add-ons like cinnamon, cloves and lemon, does contain some beneficial ingredients. Cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties, the scent of lemon has been proven to boost mood (which we can all use when we can only breathe out of one nostril), and honey has a soothing effect on a sore throat and cough, according to Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table. Research also finds honey helpful in killing viruses and bacterial pathogens.

Now for the bad news: The thing is that you shouldn’t need to use alcohol as a vehicle for consuming these beneficial ingredients since it can be dehydrating, according to Taub-Dix, and thus prolong your illness—especially if you’re sweating profusely with a fever, or losing lots of liquids from a bout of vomiting and diarrhea. And while alcohol can technically help you fall asleep faster, you might have trouble staying asleep, according to Taub-Dix.

While whiskey might aid in digestion (hence your grandfather’s post-dinner whiskey on the rocks), a study from The American Journal of Epidemiology found that participants who consumed any form of alcohol—including spirits like whiskey—did not recover from their common colds any sooner than their counterparts who abstained. And yes, whiskey has pain-relieving properties, but it’ll operate as a Band-Aid solution, and might magnify your pain once you’ve sobered up because you delayed addressing it (you know all those times you’ve drunkenly tripped on the sidewalk, didn’t feel a thing, and woke up with a giant, swollen ankle? Yeah, that.). If you’re hankering for something stronger than, say, a hot cocoa, that same study found that drinking red wine may help prevent common colds. You’re out of luck if you’re already sick, though.

Ultimately, a hot toddy could feel soothing in the moment, but staying hydrated should be your end goal. Taub-Dix recommends eating honey straight from the spoon (just pretend it’s Trader Joe’s peanut butter!), or stirring it into a mug of tea so that you reap its benefits and stay hydrated at the same time. Once you’ve brewed your tea, give yourself a mini calming facial by placing your face above the steaming mug. Create a barrier with your hands to contain the vapor and breathe it in. This will help reduce your congestion—and restore your healthy glow.

Sip on this immunity broth the next time you're feeling sick:

These are the two things you should always drink when you're sick, according to a dietitian. Then find out how a little oregano oil can go a long way for your immune system.

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