Can vitamins help to fight the flu? This question is more common than you may think – and is one that tends to pop up during the flu and cold season, which can begin as early as October and typically peaks in January and February.
While no single vitamin is a magic bullet, taking vitamins and supplements can help to boost your immune system and protect against the flu. In addition to getting your flu shot, consider adding the following five vitamins and supplements to your diet. Remember to consult your primary care physician before starting any new supplements.
- Garlic: Preliminary clinical research shows that garlic consumption may reduce the frequency and number of colds.
- Zinc: Supplementing with zinc lozenges seems to help reduce the duration of symptoms of the common cold. The appropriate dosage of a zinc lozenge is between 9-24 milligrams per day every two hours while awake. Start taking the zinc lozenge within 48 hours on the onset of symptoms.
- Echinacea: This is a widely used supplement thought to help decrease the severity of cold symptoms. However, research is mixed on whether echinacea is actually effective in preventing or treating the cold. Clinical studies have shown that supplementing with echinacea may decrease cold symptoms severity and duration by 10 to 30%. Due to the formulation of this supplement, dosage varies.
- Vitamin C: While most of us believe vitamin C is used to help prevent us from getting the cold, there is still quite a bit of controversy regarding the effectiveness of vitamin C in the treatment of the cold. The majority of evidence does show that taking high doses of vitamin C (between 1,000-5,000 milligrams per day) orally may decrease the duration of cold symptoms by one to one and a half days in some people.
- Probiotics: Healthy bacteria in the form of probiotics that may help reduce symptoms of the common cold. A preliminary study suggests that a combination of Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus paracasei, taken in a dose of one billion CFUs daily for 12 weeks may reduce the incidence of developing the common cold by approximately 12% while reducing the number of symptomatic days from around nine days to six days.
The vitamins and supplements outlined above can be found at your local pharmacy or grocery store.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on December 7, 2014, but has been updated.
Don't wait to get your flu shot; they take about two weeks to provide protection. Get vaccinated before peak flu season hits. Learn more.