The cold weather hits our immune systems, making it harder for us to fight cough, cold and flu bugs we come into contact with. The lack of sunlight and generally being outdoors less doesn’t help our immunity either and being packed together in schools, offices and on public transport means germs spread like wildfire.
At this time of year, many of us reach for vitamins, supplements and traditional remedies to protect ourselves from the cold season, but there have been questions over whether they actually work.
Evidence and advice is often conflicting, but if you’re prone to colds, you may want to take as many precautions as possible to help keep them at bay.
Nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville says that supplements are not a substitute for a balanced diet but filling any holes in yours with supplements can be an ‘insurance policy’ that gives your body a boost when it needs it. But don’t try and take everything, instead, she recommends taking a few key, good quality supplements.
[Related: How to get enough vitamin D this winter]
Key supplements to boost immunity:
Around half of the UK population is deficient in this vital vitamin, which we get from sunlight and also oily fish and egg yolk. In the winter it’s very difficult to get the 20 minutes of sun exposure recommended (and if you have a SPF face cream and are wrapped up in layers, it won’t even penetrate) so a vitamin supplement can bridge the gap.
The usefulness of vitamin C in preventing colds has been doubted by several trials, but others have suggested that it can reduce the severity and length of a cold. You don’t necessarily need to take it as a supplement though, it’s abundant in our diets in citrus fruits, broccoli, kiwis and peppers. If you’re forgetful when it comes to your five a day, it might be worth topping up, however.
Garlic has been found to reduce your chance of catching a cold. It’s a natural antibiotic, which may help your body fight against infection. Raw garlic is the most beneficial, but if you don’t fancy that, try a capsule.
Zinc has also been shown to shorten the length of colds. It can be taken as a pill, a nasal spray or as lozenges.
[Related: Five natural antibiotics]
Many people swear by Echinacea and trials this year have shown that it can be beneficial to the immune system and reduces the severity and length of colds. It should be taken continuously but it’s recommended you take it for short periods of time, eg. every day for around three months. It can also be effective if you start taking it when you feel a cold coming on and continue for a few weeks after you’re better. This may help boost your immune system as it recovers from you cold, making you less likely to catch anything else going round. High doses of around 1,000mg are thought to be most effective.
Stay healthy this winter with our seasonal health advice.