9 Supplements To Prevent Cold and Flu Symptoms

Supplements & Medical Evidence:

Hello Cold and Flu Season!

The cold has arrived and with it so have the cold and flu viruses. Coughs, sore throats, fever, body aches, missed school days, missed work days, and so one. You get the picture. So what is one to do about all this snot? Well, let’s take a look at the medical data behind supplements and see which ones are right for you.

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1 – Vitamin D –

Vitamin D works as a kind of light switch in your body, turning on or off genes and processes that your body needs to maintain health. The active form of Vitamin D is sent to many different areas of your body, including your bones, intestines, colon, brain, and immune cells, which all have Vitamin D receptors. The active form of Vitamin D binds with these receptors and essentially turns the genes on.

  • 2017 British Medical Journal – 11,000 participants, 0-95yrs old. Systematic Review of the Data.

  • Conclusion: the supplement group cut their risk of upper respiratory infections by 50%

  • 2016 Cochrane review – 435 students & 658 adults, daily supplementation vitamin D, 6-12 months. Systematic Review of the Data

  • Conclusion: reduced the risk of severe asthma attacks requiring hospital admission by 50%

  • 2010 J of Clin Nutrition – 430 school children, 1200 IU daily for 4 months. Double-blind placebo controlled study

  • Conclusion : 42% prevention of flu symptoms in Vit D group vs placebo

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2 – Vitamin C –

Looking overall at all the research, it appears that for the most part taking vitamin C won’t help the average person prevent colds. But let’s look at the findings in the British Medical Journal

  • Vitamin C may provide benefit for people at high risk of colds due to frequent exposure — for example, children who attend group child care during the winter. .

  • Decreasing symptoms of colds can help lessen wheezing and asthma symptoms .

  • The common cold is a common cause of asthma exacerbations.

  • Vitamin C taken 1-1.5 hrs before exercise has been shown to reduce exercise induced asthma symptoms. .

  • Vitamin C at a dosage of 1 g/day lowered the incidence of severe and moderate asthma attacks by 89% in Nigeria

  • A 4-month trial on 154 British asthmatics showed that the need for inhaled corticosteroids was lower in the vitamin C group (1g/day) under physical stress from illness or activity

  • In children, 1 to 2 g/day vitamin C shortened colds by 18% .

  • In adults, 1-2 g/day shortened the duration of colds by 8%

  • The severity of colds was also reduced by regular vitamin C administration during the cold .

  • Five trials involving a total of 598 marathon runners, skiers and soldiers on subarctic exercises yielded 50% reduction in catching the common cold and reduced duration of symptoms.

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3- Probiotics

70% of our immune system is found in the Gut.  Our gut is colonized by trillions of bacteria which play a pivotal role in protecting us from cold ad flu.  Probiotics are known to increase the number of bacteria in the gut.  But is there any medical evidence showing a link between Probiotics and common cold prevention:

  • 2010 J of American Coll. of Nutrition – 100 shift workers. Double-blind placebo controlled study

  • Probiotic: L. casei daily for 3 months.

  • Conclusion: gastrointestinal and respiratory problems after 1 month in the probiotic group

  • 2011 European J of Nutrition – 272 healthy volunteers. Double-blind placebo controlled study

  • Probiotic: L. planetarium and L. paracasei .

  • Conclusion: risks of common cold and duration of illness by 2 days

  • 2009 J of Pediatrics – 326 children (3-5 years old). Double-blind controlled Study

  • Probiotics: 110 took L. Acidophilus. 112 took L. Acidophilus + B. Animalis twice a day for 6 months

  • Conclusion: Significant of severity and duration of fever, cough, runny nose in the probiotic groups. Also, Probiotic antibiotic use and amount of days absent from school .

  • 2005 J of Clinical Nutrition – 479 healthy adults Study

  • Probiotic: L. Gasseri, B. Longum, and B. Bifidum for 3 months.

  • Conclusion: sick days cold symptoms activity of immune cells

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4 – Juice Plus

Fruits and Vegetables are the most important cold and flu prevention measures due to their vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant content.    However, it is really hard to get the 8-13 servings per day as recommended by Harvard School of Public Health.   Thus, there is Juice Plus which come in capsules or gummies.  They are derived from organically grown and vine ripened produce.  They are tested for herbicides/pesticides,  There have no color, no preservatives, and are gluten free and vegan.  This is great, but what is the medical evidence?

15 studies were done on bioavailability of minerals from JP at various medical centers around the world

Daily dietary supplement to reduce the common cold was studied:

  • 2011 British Journal of Nutrition – 529 people. Healthcare professionals in Germany, 8 months. Double-blind controlled study

  • Conclusion: Intake of Juice Plus supplement was associated with a 20% reduction of moderate or severe cold symptom days in healthcare professionals particularly those exposed to patient contact

  • 2006 J of Nutrition – 59 law students, 77 days, double-blind control study

  • Conclusion: By day 77 there was a 30% increase in circulating antibodies and 40% reduction in DNA damage compared to the placebo group

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5 – Zinc –

ZINC – Zinc appears to be effective in reducing the number of colds per year in children and adults (Review).

  • 2011 Cochrane review – 13 therapeutic trials (966 participants) and two preventive trials (394 participants).

  • Zinc sulfate 10 mg or 15 mg daily.

  • Systematic Review of the Data

  • Conclusion: Intake of zinc is associated with a significant reduction in the duration of colds, less missed school days, and less antibiotic use.

  • Do not use zinc nasal sprays as these have been associated with a loss of a sense of smell.

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6 – Omega 3

Omega 3s increase the activity of phagocytes—cells that fight flu by eating up bacteria—according to a study by Britain’s Institute of Human Nutrition and School of Medicine. Other research shows that omega-3s increase airflow and protect lungs from colds and respiratory infections.

  • 2011 J of Pediatrics – 849 pregnant moms starting supplementation at 18-22 weeks gestation, 400 mg DHA daily. Double-blind placebo controlled study

  • Conclusion: DHA supplementation during pregnancy decreased the occurrence of colds in children 0-6 months.

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7 – Nasal Spray Irrigation

One of the MOST preventive things you can do is to irrigate your and your children’s nasal passages with Xlear nasal spray at the end of every day, and after any potential exposure (work, school, playgroups, plane travel, etc.). This is a saline nasal spray with xylitol and grapefruit seed extract, both of which have antimicrobial properties. You cannot overdo it, and will not get “addicted” to it. Other options for nasal irrigation are a regular saline spray, Neti pot, other sinus rinse like Neilmed. **Apart from regular hand washing, I believe that daily and frequent nasal irrigation is one of the MOST important things that we can do to prevent influenza and other infections from taking hold.** This is because after exposure to a virus, the virus tries to invade and multiply in your nasal passages for at least 1-2 days before you develop any symptoms. Nasal irrigation can wash away viral particles before they have the opportunity to take hold, and thereby prevent many infections from happening in the first place!


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8 – Elderberry Syrup

Elderberries (Sambucus) have been a folk remedy for centuries in North America, Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa, hence the medicinal benefits of elderberries are being investigated and rediscovered. Elderberry is used for its antioxidant activity, to lower cholesterol, to improve vision, to boost the immune system, to improve heart health and for coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections and tonsillitis. Bioflavonoids and other proteins in the juice destroy the ability of cold and flu viruses to infect a cell. People with the flu who took elderberry juice reported less severe symptoms and felt better much faster than those who did not.

A 2019 review of the literature published in Complimentary Therapies in Medicine

  • 4 studies were eligible

  • patients 4-59yrs old studied

  • Conclusion: Supplementation with elderberry was found to substantially reduce upper respiratory symptoms

A randomized clinical study showed clinical benefits of taking Elderberry Juice in patients with influenza A & B

  • 60 patients (aged 18-54 years) suffering from influenza-like symptoms for 48 hrs or less

  • 15ml Elderberry Syrup 4 times daily for 5 days

  • Decreased duration of flu symptoms by 4 days

A paper published in the Journal of Phytochemistry showed that in a test tube, elderberry flavonoids inhibited H1N1 influenza infection similar to Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Amantadine

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9 – Oscillococcinum

Anas barbariae hepatis et cordis extractum 200K (Oscillococcinum®) is used to treat and prevent seasonal colds and airway inflammatory affections, improve symptom control, and reduce the frequency of respiratory tract infection (RTI) episodes. But does it really?

A controlled observational study in 2018 showed the following:

  • Date of study 2002-2011

  • 246 were treated while 209 were the control group

  • Conclusion: The frequency of RTI episodes was always lower in patients treated with Oscillococcinum, and the cost of treatment was overall lower

Several Cochrane reviews show: “Though promising, the data is not strong enough to make a general recommendation to use Oscillococcinum for first-line treatment of influenza and influenza-like syndrome.” Further research is warranted. The current studies overall have many deficits. Sifting through all the evidence, I find enough compelling data to recommend Oscillococcinum for my patients at the start of flu like symptoms.

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Where should you buy supplements?

Please be aware that not all supplements are created equal. I spend a lot of time scouring the literature and interviewing supplement companies to bring you the highest quality products. You can find all the above supplements for adults and children on my Fullscript Online Store

In Good Health, Dr. Ana-Maria

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