Americans spend over 1.5 billion dollars a year on supplements to fight off and/or treat the symptoms of respiratory viruses (common colds and the flu).  Is this money well spent?  Unfortunately the jury is still out.

Supplements are not something a lot of doctors and scientists study in what are called controlled trials.  In a controlled trial, doctors and scientists compare two treatments or compare a new treatment to doing nothing at all (no treatment).  This gives them a lot of information on how effective a treatment is for a particular disease.  So what does this mean for you?  It means that the medical information on how well individual supplements work for the common cold or the flu is limited and makes it harder for you to know which ones are worth spending your money on.

Now don’t despair, there is some information available, you just ned to make sure you are informed when picking supplements.  And before you reach for those supplements, ask yourself, have I done everything I can to keep myself healthy in the first place.  Remember, eating well, getting enough rest, exercising, dealing with stress in a healthy way and good hand washing are all important in keeping you healthy. Don’t forget that a yoga class has started on Wednesdays and is a great way to ease into exercise and reduce stress.  Massage and acupuncture can also help with stress. We would be happy to answer any questions next time you are in or you can email us your questions.

Below is some information on some of the common supplements people consider for colds and the flu:

     Echinacea:  The studies are conflicting as they were done with different types of echinacea plants. The bottom line is, if it helps with cold symptoms or preventing colds, the effects will be modest at best.

Vitamin C:  Again the studies are conflicting as to whether it can help prevent colds or reduce the duration of symptoms.

Zinc:  The problem with zinc is two fold.  First, it comes in many forms, which may be why numerous studies showed good evidence for its benefits while some did not. The other is it competes for absorption of copper so the potential long-term effects are unclear.  That being said, syrup or lozenges taken very early on in a cold have been shown to reduce the symptoms.  Studies have also shown a protective benefit in people on zinc for five months.

Elderberry:  Elderberry shows some potential promise.  In a small study, a specific formulation of elderberry shortened the symptoms of the flu by 56%.  Additional studies will need to be completed.

Raw Garlic:  Garlic may help fight viruses and decrease the risk of catching a cold, however studies need to be done.  Garlic can be dangerous in people on blood thinners.

Ginseng:  A study looking at a specific blend of North American ginseng taken for several months during the flu season was quite promising.  It showed that this formulation (sold as Cold fX) reduced the risk of getting colds and the flu.  It also showed that when used as a treatment it reduced the severity and duration of symptoms.

Indian Echinacea:  Most studies have looked at a specific formulation that combines andrographis or Indian Echinacea with Siberian ginseng (eleutherococcus senticosus). This product, called Kan Jang, improved cold symptoms significantly when started early in the cold and appears to reduce the chance of getting a cold if taken for several months.


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