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Is a Hot Toddy Really Good for a Cold? Doctors Explain

This hot whiskey cocktail might make you feel better for a moment, but there's a catch.

It’s cold season and, for many parents, that means hot cocktail season. The headliner is the Hot Toddy, a warm cup of whiskey, lemon, honey, cloves, and cinnamon. It’s a mythical cold remedy, but does it actually leave sick moms and dads with anything but a hangover? Doctors are less dismissive of the buzz-inducing cure than you might think.

“While a Hot Toddy can’t necessarily cure a cold or stop it in its tracks, the warm beverage’s ingredients are known to alleviate cold symptoms,” Dr. David Greuner, a surgeon at NYC Surgical Associates, told Fatherly.

Besides alcohol’s famous pain-killing powers (try gargling with whiskey and warm water to numb a sore throat), moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to dilate mucus membranes much in the same way as menthol does, Greuner says. This can help clear infections and refresh moms and dads with colds. Whiskey, specifically, also contains the antioxidant ellagic acid, which studies suggest may help treat viral and bacterial infections. 

Heating that whiskey up and serving it with spices is similarly sound advice. Hot water relieves nasal congestion, honey can help soothe sore throats and suppress coughs, and the vitamin C in lemon juice helps to reduce phlegm. As long as you continue drinking water and other non-alcoholic fluids, there is little risk to the occasional Hot Toddy. “Alcohol is a diuretic that pulls fluids from the body, so drink plenty of non-alcoholic beverages, like water,” Greuner says, adding that sick people should limit themselves to only one Hot Toddy per day.

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Not all physicians are as easygoing about the Hot Toddy, however. Even one spiked beverage burdens an already busy immune system, family physician Dr. Janette Nesheiwat argues. “We are potentially adding an extra stressor to our body,” she told Fatherly. “We are running uphill, and it becomes steeper when alcohol is added.” Nesheiwat recommends hot tea, instead. “Alcohol can make one nauseated, dehydrated, constipated, cause headaches, dry mouth, fatigue.”

“Do we really want all that on top of a cold?”