Does eating hot and spicy things help with an illness?

Seasonal influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness. The influenza virus is responsible for the illness. All types of flu have similar symptoms, which can vary in severity. Symptoms include fever, cough, congestion, body aches, headache, sore throat and fatigue. Some people believe that spicy foods may help relieve the symptoms of the flu, especially congestion.

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper is often added to make foods spicier. Traditional medicine has used capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne, for centuries as a pain reliever, to help with circulation and digestive problems and to aid a poor appetite. Although no research has examined foods containing cayenne pepper and flu symptoms, research has found that nasal sprays that contain capsaicin may reduce congestion. A 2011 study published in “Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology” found that subjects that used the capsaicin nasal spray over a period of two weeks had less congestion.


Horseradish is a spicy plant that has a number of potential health benefits, including antibiotic properties. According to Life Extension, juice from the root of the horseradish can effectively treat sinus discomfort that may be present with the flu. Traditional medicine recommends that people with sinus congestion take one-half teaspoon of grated horseradish both in the morning and in the afternoon. Horseradish can also be added to your meal to add flavor while helping to relieve congestion.


Garlic, a relative of the onion, is often found in spicy foods. Many cultures have used garlic as a medicine. It does contain antioxidants and can protect your body from free radical damage. The pungent spice also acts as a decongestant. Although no research has examined garlic and the flu specifically, garlic may help to prevent the common cold. A 2001 study published in “Advances in Therapy” found that subjects that took garlic supplements had fewer colds. The subjects that took garlic also had a faster recovery time.