This time of year, cold and flu bugs seem as inevitable as an abundance of tempting goodies. But that’s no excuse to be complacent about your health. Instead, you can turn to several tried-and-true natural approaches to reduce your cold and flu risk. “Much of the immune system consists of, or is programmed by, cells in the gut lining,” says Jennifer Kaumeyer, ND, of the Riordan Clinic in Wichita, Kansas. “Probiotics and zinc are among the supplements that help keep these cells healthy.”
Of course, also remember to wash your hands frequently, especially after touching doorknobs, other people’s phones and your kid’s runny nose.
There’s a reason herbalists turn to echinacea to prevent colds and flus: It works. In one study, researchers gave 755 people either echinacea or placebos for four months. People taking the herb had fewer colds and needed fewer medications.
Dose: Follow label directions. If you can tolerate the taste, a tincture might be particularly effective.
In one study, people taking an elderberry extract were completely free of flu symptoms after just two to three days, while symptoms lasted almost a week in people taking placebos. The herbal extract has broad-spectrum antibacterial and viral effects.
Dose: Take a teaspoon of sugar-free syrup every three to four waking hours until symptoms disappear.
NAC remains one of the most potent guards against colds and flus. Researchers gave either 600 mg of NAC or placebos twice daily to seniors. Those taking NAC still caught the flu but experienced fewer symptoms.
Dose: 600 mg twice daily, but you can boost it to 2,400–3,600 mg daily at the first sign of symptoms.
New studies show our gut bacteria—and probiotics—can prevent and reduce cold and flu symptoms. For example, researchers found that supplemental Bifidobacterium bifidum reduced symptoms among stressed college students. Another study reported that Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG eased upper-respiratory-tract symptoms in children attending day care. Start taking probiotics before cold and flu season begins.
Dose: Follow label directions.
It’s more than coincidence that the cold and flu season occurs when people get less seasonal sunlight and therefore make less vitamin D. People need the vitamin to activate a variety of germ-fighting immune factors. A study of high school students found that taking 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily reduced the risk of catching the flu by 83 percent.
Dose: Take 2,000–5,000 IU daily. You can increase the dose to 10,000 IU daily during the first three days of a cold.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland analyzed data from 199 patients who took either zinc lozenges or placebos. All cold symptoms, including nasal discharge, congestion and hoarseness, decreased substantially.
Dose: Take one lozenge every two to four hours until symptoms subside.
Power up with these immunity-boosting products
A. Vogel Echinaforce. This tincture is made from fresh (not dried) organically grown Echinacea purpurea herb and root. A. Vogel, a venerable company based in Switzerland, carefully blends vats of tincture to create a standardized product. Each 3.4-fluid-ounce bottle contains 185 servings, with each serving consisting of 20 drops.
Herb Pharm Black Elderberry. Each 1-ounce bottle of this tincture contains certified-organic black elderberry extract, obtained from either organically grown or sustainably wildcrafted Sambucus nigra trees. The company’s website states that the berries are harvested only when mature for premium freshness. The tincture also contains distilled water, organic alcohol and vegetable glycerin.
Solgar NAC. N-acetylcysteine serves as a precursor to glutathione, the body’s principal antioxidant. Each capsule contains 600 mg of NAC, the amount used in many clinical trials.
Source Naturals Bifidyn. Bifidyn comes as a freeze-dried probiotic powder, and each quarter teaspoon provides approximately 6.4 billion CFUs of Bifidobacterium longum and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Because stomach acid can destroy a significant number of probiotics, it’s probably best to take this supplement during or immediately after a meal, when food buffers acidity.
Nature’s Answer Vitamin D-3 Drops. Vitamin D now comes in practically any form, including hard and soft capsules, tablets and liquid. Two drops of this supplement provide 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 in an olive-oil base, and each bottle provides 300 servings. Vitamin D3 is derived from sheep lanolin, so it may not be suitable for vegetarians.
Quantum Health Thera Zinc Lozenges Cold Season +. Each Thera Zinc lozenge contains 14 mg of zinc gluconate and 500 IU of vitamin A acetate, along with a blend of slippery elm bark, larch arabinogalactan, marshmallow root and mullein leaf. The box contains 24 lozenges with a cherry, orange or lemon flavor.