5 Supplements Worth Taking During Flu Season

Two vitamins, a mineral, an herb and a probiotic walk into a bar…

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Each year when cold weather comes knocking, so does another pair of unwanted visitors: the flu and common cold. Cold and flu cases typically peak over the winter, bringing with them symptoms like fever, achy muscles, tiredness, sneezing and coughing. But you can take steps to take care of your body so that your body can take care of you. These five supplements may help.

1. Zinc

A mineral that’s found naturally in some foods (like oysters, meat and poultry, dairy and nuts) and added to others (think: fortified breakfast cereals), zinc helps the immune system fight bacteria and viruses. It’s also involved with wound healing and making proteins and DNA.

Some studies show that zinc lozenges or syrup may help with recovery from the common cold and even reduce symptoms if taken within 24 hours of first getting sick. Adult men need at least 11 mg of zinc each day, while adult women require 8 mg. The upper recommended limit is 40 mg.

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2. Vitamin C

Also known as L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is another nutrient found in foods (especially citrus fruits, bell peppers and kiwi) and supplements. It is an antioxidant, which means it fights free radicals in the body that are created when we convert food into energy and when we’re exposed to environmental stressors like pollution, UV radiation and cigarette smoke. Vitamin C also helps the immune system to fight off illness and disease.

While taking vitamin C won’t prevent colds, it may reduce their length and severity. The catch? You have to be taking vitamin C on a regular basis. Popping a few vit-C tabs after you get sick won’t do much. Adult men need 90 mg of vitamin C each day and adult women require 75 mg. The upper recommended limit is 2,000 mg.

3. Echinacea

Echinacea is a flowering plant with nine known species (three of which are used in herbal supplements) in North America. It’s traditionally used to treat common ailments like colds, inflammation and migraines. Like vitamin C, echinacea is high in antioxidants and may support the immune system.

Take Echinacea purpurea (one species of echinacea) when you get sick and it may help to shorten the length of your illness or reduce your symptoms.

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4. Vitamin D

Since few foods naturally contain vitamin D, most Canadians get their supply from fortified milk, orange juice and breakfast cereals, as well as supplements. The body also makes vitamin D when skin is exposed to the sun. Vitamin D plays many roles including helping the body absorb calcium and fight invaders that cause illness.

Taking vitamin D supplements may help to protect against upper respiratory tract infections—especially if you’re vitamin D deficient. Adults between ages 19 and 70 generally require 15 mcg (600 IU) with an upper recommended limit of  100 mcg (4,000 IU).

5. Probiotics

Often found in yogurt and other fermented foods, probiotics are live microorganisms including bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. When ingested, they may increase the amount of “good” bacteria in the gut to improve digestion and may even improve your body’s immune response.

While more research still needs to be done, some studies have shown that taking probiotics may help to prevent respiratory tract infections and may also improve the efficacy of the flu vaccine in healthy adults.

While each of these supplements may strengthen your immune system and give you relief if you contract the cold or flu, you should continue to take additional steps to protect your health. Make sure you:

  • Get the flu shot
  • Wash your hands
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Eat a nutrient-dense diet
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Manage your stress levels

To stock up on supplements for the season, visit healthyplanetcanada.com.

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Originally Published in Best Health Canada