This post initially arose out of a discussion about homeopathy (and indeed most other 'alternative' styles of treatment), about which, having trained in pharmacology at university, I usually end up in a paradox loop.
Yes, according to all of the research available, everyone who is saying that homeopathy is no better than a placebo is correct... BUT the placebo is one of the safest and most powerful treatments known to medical science. So I'm torn. When someone has a virus (for example, the common cold) or some other condition that is otherwise untreatable, is it worse to say 'I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do for you.' or to give someone a sugar pill and say 'this will make you feel better'... and it does? If a placebo treatment is effective, is it even a lie?
I also think the reason we have such enormous trouble getting rid of 'alternative' unscientific treatments is because they genuinely do offer something that empirical medicine doesn't, and that is often the simple sense of being heard, cared for and of being able to 'do something', where medical science might just say 'wait this out'.
Which is why I feel so excited about having found something of a middle ground: When I or my friends have an infection, I 'prescribe' a whole list of foods known for antimicrobial properties (usually resulting in a rather nice curry!). It's not 'medicine', precisely, but evidence suggests that each of the individual items themselves should help at least a little bit more than a placebo would, good nutrition is *always* useful and the sense of being able to 'do something' about the situation is an enormous relief.
My personal infection-fighting shopping list is as follows (I will try to come back and edit this later to add proper references and update it with new possibly bug-fighting foods as and when I spot them):
Garlic (evidence of some antimicrobial properties, including antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal)
Onions (evidence of some antimicrobial properties)
Ginger (evidence of some antimicrobial properties)
Cinnamon (evidence of some antimicrobial properties, also kills insect larvae)
Cardamom (evidence of some antimicrobial, and some anti inflammatory properties)
Hot Chilli Peppers (you guessed it, evidence of some antimicrobial properties. Also stimulates endorphin release for pain relief, and is a pretty effective decongestant)
Sweet peppers/bell peppers (super-high in vitamin C)
Tomatoes (high in vit. C, which is good for the immune system, and lycopene- antioxidant, lowers stroke risk, apparently good for asthma sufferers)
Lemon (more vit. C)
Something high in zinc, which is known for helping the immune system along (lamb is supposed to be good, as are quite a lot of nuts, and iirc a fair few kinds of fish as well.)
Something that's a good source of protein, to help build and repair new cells (usually chicken, fish or lamb, also eggs, cheese or pretty much any sort of nuts).
[ Tea and Cookies are not on the list yet, but I can always hope!]
...All of the above can be referenced via pubmed. It's not a coincidence that a lot of those items on the list are strongly flavoured 'aromatic' foods - a lot of the pungent flavours we find so fascinating turn out to be the plants natural chemical defences against invading bugs. I've probably missed off a few, but a rule of thumb seems to be that if it's a strongly flavoured spice, fruit, or vegetable, then it probably has some bug-killing properties.
It turns out that all that's pretty close to a recipe for a lamb doppiaza right there, which coincidentally happens to be my favourite curry (other kinds of curry are available)! Also quite a lot of thai food (A good tom yum soup is also great for keeping hydrated, too, as well as containing lots of anti-bug foods!).
I'd love to see more recipe suggestions and additions to my list in the comments here!