Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cultural differences in treating the common cold

After a whole month of whirlwind traveling, it was only a matter of time before our immunity took a toll from a combination of jet lag and weather changes.  And when I say "our" immunity - it is Maya and I - since husband-ji never ever gets sick and has some sort of Indian immunity superpower! Yes, the Canadian passport holders have pitiful weak immunity...

Maya got sick first, and then I caught it immediately, a day after (probably because she wipes her nose on me....ALL day....EVERY day...) Maya managed to recover faster than me (probably thanks to her dad's super sonic kryptonite Indian genes) meanwhile I was still sick.

"Your immunity must become STRONG. Like an INDIAN!" MIL says...

So now that I am sick, husband-ji and dear MIL have been giving me their Indian advices on how BEST to treat my common cold.

Of course, in usual East meets West fashion, many of these Indian advices directly contradict my Western ways of caring for my cold.


Wait a sec....!!! I thought having cold foods and drinks were supposed to numb your throat. I thought you're supposed to drink hot water with lemon. I thought the warm steam from the shower will help open up the nasal passages....

It is amazing how even something as simple as treating the common cold has so many cultural differences...

Indian advices on how to treat the common cold:
- no mango juice (creates body heat)
- no bananas (creates more phlegm)
- no citrus anything and nothing sour
- no head bath / getting hair wet
- if you have to take a head bath, put turmeric powder on feet and scalp after you dry your hair
- inhaling steam with water, turmeric and Vicks
- inhaling turmeric root
- drink warm milk and turmeric
- drink water boiled with tulsi (basil)
- drink peppery Rasam like a soup
- food should be extra hot in temperature
- fry a husk of wheat, keep it in a cloth and put it to your chest
- mix camphor and coconut oil and put it on the chest
- avoid consuming milk products
- gargle hot water and salt **
- lots of rest **
- lots of liquids (for hydration) **

Western advices on how to treat the common cold:
- hot water with lemon (and honey or ginger)
- drink herbal teas
- drink cold stuff or have popsicles to numb the throat
- eat foods like citrus, banana, and anything high in Vitamin C
- chicken soup
- saline drops and nasal sprays
- antihistamine
- steam baths
- elevate head while sleeping with extra pillows
- lots of rest **
- lots of liquids (for hydration) **

(** = the ones that are the same in both cultures)

So, naturally, it is confusing. I mean, which one of these really work? Or do they only work in their respective climates - is that why they contradict each other?

Husband-ji was cooking for me all week, making his peppery Rasam and Garlicky Dal Tadka to soothe my cold. It was delicious, but after so many days, I really was craving something cold on my throat. I had already been sick as a dog for 5 days and followed the Indian logic of "no cold drinks" and I still didn't feel any better.

What the heck, I thought. That night, I cracked open an ice cold Coca-Cola to have with my dinner of Garlicky Dal Tadka and rice.

Husband-ji nearly flipped his lid, ranting on and on about how I KNOW very well that cold drinks are not good to have when I'm sick and that I'm just going to get even sicker tomorrow. Blah blah blah...

But as I guzzled that ice cold sweet and fizzy dark elixir, I really couldn't care.... It just felt too good on my throat! To make the situation worse for my Indian counterpart, I also decided to have some cold yogurt with my dal.

Simultaneously, husband-ji was going on with his "AIYYOOO RAMA", and over the phone, MIL's "TCH TCH TCH" made the phone sound like it was having a severe static problem. I think they thought I'd be so sick the next day, I'd need to be hospitalized...

Lo and behold, the next morning I woke up fresh and cold-free! Finally, my bad pesky cold had vanished and I could get back to my regular daily activities of being a zookeeper mother.

So, which way actually worked to treat the cold? 
The Indian way or the Western way?

I think it was a bit of both....



  1. Hahaha probably both or maybe neither as a common cold usually goes away in a few days ;)

    However, in comparing both cultures I heard in western advices that pepper and mustard are good against cold. Garlic and thyme will always help in case of illness and are ingredients of chicken soup.

    Happy to hear you feel better in any case ! (Padparadscha)

    1. I loooove Garlic. It seems to be any really strong flavors may help colds, but who knows?!

  2. I am glad you got better its terrible to be sick long, especially as a Mom. The one issue I have with my indian husbands suggestions is to keep the body super warm. My daughter had a flu and I kept telling him he must cool her down he said no thats not how you do it. We went to emergency room first thing dr said was unwrap the child from the blanket! He practically yelled at my husband. Never again has he tried to heat up and keep a fever going! He even told his mom over and over again the bad effects of too high fevor, seizures ! He also learned that cold food is fine for a cold. I also had to convince my mil that medication and anti biotics are NOT needed for every little cold. In india they run to dr for ever cold and get medication.

    1. OMG especially with a fever that is so dangerous to overheat! My MIL also uses antibiotics all the time when I think she doesn't need to.

  3. This post came at such an opportune time! Me, My husband, and my son all had a cold for at least a week! We drank turmeric tea to help but that was about it. We just kind of dealt with it until it passed. There are such interesting remedies in India for everything! What gets me is as crazy as some of them sound...they do work!

    1. Oh gosh, the whole family!! That really sucks! The Indian remedies are so interesting. I totally believe turmeric is a lifesaver!

  4. Ha ha.

    My experience is the opposite. South Asians + Europeans have a different set of advice while East Asians do not seem to know how to manage a cold. Chinese medicine keeps on about how to keep the body warm but most East Asians I see here constantly have a cold. A cold every other time you meet them.

    There is some wisdom in old wives tales - a cold may be caused by a virus but it is called a cold not a heat right?

    European advice

    - keep warm, no short clothes
    - Sweat it out as much as possible.
    - No cold drinks
    - Ideally do not shower and especially do not wash hair.
    - Shower in warm water. No cold water.
    - Drink soup
    - Lots of tea with lemon & honey

    My Indian advice:
    - Try to shower less/less washing of hair ( I am bad at this because I need to shower)
    - Drink water with lemon - I personally have noticed this decreases my chances of developing a cold
    - Gargle with warm water + salt for sore throat
    - Try keeping warm
    - Turmeric + milk sometimes helps
    - I love having soups, tea, rasam.
    - High pillow helps when my nose is blocked
    - Steaming with tiger balm/vicks in hot water and towel over my head definitely helps
    - I avoid anything cold when I have a cold
    - Drink lots of hot drinks especially chai because I love it.

    Overall, there is no one fit for all because we are all different.

    1. So interesting! I think it depends on the climate and also the person too. I used to know how to deal with my colds but now I have all these Indian advices I don't know what to do with and keep trying. It has opened up my mind, I find it very interesting!

  5. I did my masters thesis in the medicinal properties of plants and that turmeric really does have it's benefits!! BUT, honey is just yum yum yummy!!

    Lots of love, glad you are both feeling better! xxx

    1. I think turmeric and honey are two of the best. Haldi is a cure-all!

  6. @Alexandra

    If you want to improve your immunity then drink a mixture of Amla (indian gooseberry) and aloevera juice with water on empty stomach. Amla is the wonder fruit described in Ayurveda and very good for building immunity. It has the highest content of vitamin C. You can also eat the fruit raw. You can also give it to Maya. Amala boosts your immunity, helps digestion, purifies blood etc.

    About Indian and western style of dealing with cold, it depends upon the climate. Most western countries are cold, so probably having something cold would not affect you but in a hot and humid country like India eating something cold of sour would probably aggravate the situation. Moreover, cold in India many a times mean something more sinister. There are so many strains of dangerous flu floating around Chickengunia, Dengue. Common cold in India can quickly develop into something very serious.

    1. That is so interesting, I have never heard of that remedy before, it sounds great! My hubby says Amla is used for pickle a lot since it is very sour.
      I think a lot of it depends on the climate too.
      I have recently read a very disturbing article regarding the type of bugs in India -



    2. @Alexandra
      Amla is not going to cure cold but it will boost your immunity to that you d o not fall prey to flus, cold and infection. There is another wonderful herb mixture with amla base called Chawanprash, you must have heard about it. It is absolutely harmless. It has an interesting story as well.





      It is the most common tonic used in India for decades. You have to mix it with milk at bed time and take it. You can also eat it raw. It has a sour/sweet taste because of Amla. It is a potent mixture of many herbs which keeps you rejuvenated. Ask for Dabur Chawanpash at the India stores. After you start taking it you will feel less fatigued and sick.

    3. Oh yes, I have seen this at the Indian grocer! I will get it next time we go.

  7. Ah the good old cold advices!
    Living in India I found out that treating it the Indian way, or the western way has no difference whatsoever, it still take about a week to get better from one. Tulsi has zero effect on me, not that I didnt try, and I still do take it because I like the taste, but it simply wont do a thing for my symptoms, ginger, honey and lemon in hot water works better, at night I just do honey and brandy with a dash of pepper in hot water and that has ensured cough less nights better than any chemical medicines.
    With a sore throat from hell NOTHING soothe better than a ice cold drink or yogurt, so screw the Indian tales of not eating or drinking cold stuff, because that is the only thing that will do the trick and had me functional. I don't do cough syrups and medicine much when I have a cold, and I dont like how easily doctors prescribe antibiotics in India, so unless my symptoms worsen after a couple of days I dont bother, and worsenning of symptoms hasn't happened in years anyway...living in India no less.

    1. Yes, I agree, I think it doesn't matter anyway, the cold will progress and get over when the body decides. I think most of these remedies are just used for comforts.
      With a sore throat, I just love cold stuff. I notice with my other Asian friends (like Chinese, Vietnamese) they also say don't drink cold stuff.

  8. lol! It's funny how different things are culturally.
    I'm an Indian, but I don't believe in the "stay away from cold things" bit, though it is widely believed in India. I checked with my doctor as well, and he told me cold stuff doesn't really have any effect, but hot fluids do soothe better than the cold stuff, so probably that's why the myth came about.
    A peppery rasam does help clear the nasal passages though!

    Stay healthy! :D

    1. Thanks! Yes, it is one of those things that baffle me! Lots of cultural differences, it is so interesting.

  9. This is indeed funny - super sonic kryptonite Indian genes!!! ha ha ha!!! :)

    1. Totally, he has never had a cold nor been to the dentist. Indian superman, for real!


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