No one likes being sick. Because of this there are tons of products and tricks promising to boost your immune system and help fight off colds or flus. With most of these products being moderately priced, buying and using them seems like a pretty good deal; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure right? Unfortunately though most of these things don't actually work.
Here are some of the popular products and supplements for cold and flu prevention:
One of the most marketed products in cold and flu prevention is Cold-FX which main ingredient is American Ginseng. With a barrage of commercials featuring athletes and celebrities proclaiming its effectiveness in keeping them cold and flu free and a central place in the shelves of pharmacies, people were quick to try Cold-FX out. Many pharmacists also started recommending Cold-FX and the company became a Canadian business success story.
In all the studies Cold-FX has been in though, its results weren't nearly as promising as its marketing claimed it to be. Some studies found Cold-FX had no effect. One of the most positive studies found that if you took Cold-FX for 4 years it may prevent one cold. There was no evidence that it helped with the severity or length of colds or flus, a far cry from its claims.
This was brought to light after a CBC Marketplace Report in 2011 and a lawsuit was also launched in 2012 over the products claims. While the lawsuit was tossed, it's still better to take a pass on Cold-FX.
Vitamin C has long been a popular go to for people trying to prevent and treat colds. While it is a necessary vitamin for your body with a recommended minimum intake of 75mg and 90 mg per day for females and males, taking a higher dose in the amount of 200-2000mg per day has been proposed to help with cold prevention and treatment. There have been several studies done on Vitamin C and so far it's shown that high doses of Vitamin C do not decrease the frequency of colds in the general population. For people engaging in a high stress exercise schedule like competitive marathoners or skiers though it may have slightly more promise. There has also been some evidence that it may reduce the length of a cold by 8-14% for the general population.
As fruits and vegetables contain a lot of Vitamin C, it's not a bad idea to eat more fruits and vegetables and potentially get a slightly shorter cold as well as get some fiber and other vitamins and nutrients. While oranges are the most commonly thought of food for Vitamin C, guava, kiwis and peppers have more Vitamin C than oranges do.
Many other products also have Vitamin C in them and are very cheaply priced. One thing to look out for is things like lozenges, suckers, gummies, popsicles and drinks which boast high levels of Vitamin C can also have a lot of sugar or other sweeteners. The extra sugar intake probably isn't worth the vitamin C, unless you particularly like the taste of the product.
Echinacea is another common suggestion people will give you when you tell them that you are fighting a cold. While it is kind of fun to say, there is no evidence that really suggests it helps with the prevention of treatment of colds.
Zinc is one of the newer suggestions to treat colds. It is a mineral that is needed for the human body in small amounts and has a recommended daily intake of 9mg-40mg. Some of the main sources we get zinc from are meat and seafood. There has been some research which points to high dosages of zinc reducing cold length. There needs to be more research done into what a safe and effective dosage is though. High doses of zinc can have side effects such as nausea when taken by mouth and loss of smell when take by spray. Because of this taking zinc supplements without the recommendation of a doctor is unadvised.
Garlic is a delicious garnish on food. Some people are also pretty enthusiastic about it preventing colds too. While one study did show a reduction in frequency and duration of colds with people that took garlic pills, as it is only one study more research needs to be done. Until then continue eating lots of garlic if you like it and avoid it if you don't.
Probiotics are one of the newest supplements to hit the market and come with some promising research in many different areas including cold prevention. As with all things that show any promise to improve human health, probiotics are probably greatly overhyped and will continue to be overhyped to the general consumer. Some studies have found that probiotics were found to reduce frequency and duration of colds in both the general population as well as heavily training athletes.
Most of these studies have been small sample sizes or were supported by probiotic manufacturers so more research is needed. Another thing to watch out for with probiotics is that most studies are using a significantly larger amount than what you'd find in yogurt or a drink. There are also many different strains of probiotics and one study found that only 1 out of 17 products matched their label claims.
What shows the most signs of helping your immune system so far is eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep. Washing your hands properly is one of the first lines of defence that you have. And if you want to give your immune system a leg up get your flu shot and make sure your other immunizations are up to date.