Supplements and the common cold

As I sit here trying to function with a foggy head, razor-like throat and keeping up with the consistently streaming nose (I resorted to bringing in a full box of tissues this morning), I’m acutely aware of the joys of the winter cold. The paracetamol, honey and lemon have taken the edge off my cold but I haven’t been amused over the last couple of days when friends said “You weren’t taking you’re vitamin C then?” If I searched online and believed every claim that a supplement prevented a cold then I’d be rattling away with all the pills inside me.
So are the claims true? Does taking supplements protect you against the common cold? Vitamin C and zinc are the lead runners when it comes potential benefits with Vitamin C at the forefront. There has been plenty of research on Vitamin C and it shows that taking regular vitamin C supplements – at 0.2g/d (which is the same amount as you would get if you ate 5 fruit and vegetables a day) - doesn’t prevent you from getting a cold, but it appears to reduce the duration and severity of common cold symptoms. So good news for anyone taking regular vitamin C but bad news for me who’s already got a cold.  
man with a bad coldZinc is the other supplement often associated with preventing a cold. Like Vitamin C, the evidence is that it doesn’t prevent a common cold but may reduce severity and duration of it.
And then there are things like garlic and Chinese herbals. Too few studies have been done to draw any firm conclusions. Plus, people are keeping out my way for the last couple of days as it is with my cold - a daily dose of garlic probably wouldn’t help my cause either!
So should we rush out and buy a load of food supplements? Well, you won’t prevent yourself getting a cold by popping vitamin supplements but if you want to potentially reduce the length of your cold (maybe by a day) and its severity then you might want to consider 0.2g/d vitamin C and a zinc supplement. But for a strong immune system this winter (and beyond), eating a healthy balanced diet is the best place to start. Now where’s that tissue…


Posted: 23/11/2012 12:40:09 by Marian O’Reilly
Filed under: Food supplpements, Health, Vitamins

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Marian O’Reilly
Hi, my name is Marian O’Reilly and I’m the Chief Specialist in Nutrition at safefood. My job is varied ranging from nutrition research, working on mass media campaigns to dealing with public queries on healthy eating. I live in Co. Cork with my husband and our one year son. I’m a lover of the outdoors and in my spare time will be found out walking.