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Will Vitamin C or zinc save you this cold and flu season?

Posted Jan. 06, 2014, at 11:50 a.m.

Besides handwashing, is there anything you can do to reduce your chances of getting a cold or the flu this winter season? Is there any truth to the saying “Starve a cold, feed a fever,” or is it “feed a cold, starve a fever?” I can never remember.

Here are some ideas:

Vitamin C supplements

There have long been arguments over taking high doses of vitamin C. Studies have shown that taking 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C supplements may make a cold milder and shorten it by half a day. Another study showed that vitamin C reduced the duration of symptoms in people with upper respiratory tract infections.

That said, not all studies support vitamin C supplements. It is not recommended to routinely take them. Instead, try supplements at the onset of a flu or cold. A healthy approach would be to include more vitamin C-rich foods in your diet. Luckily, most of these foods are available to us year-round in the grocery store, such as oranges, cantaloupe, kiwi fruit, strawberries and watermelon.

Vitamin D supplements

This vitamin associated with sunshine has other beneficial properties. Studies have shown it to be beneficial in cancer and flu prevention. One study found that people taking daily supplements of vitamin D were three times less likely to report flu symptoms. Participants taking a high dose of 2,000 international units of vitamin D per day didn’t report any cold or flu symptoms. During the winter months, especially in the northern states, it makes sense to take 1,000 IUs of vitamin D daily. We get minimal sun exposure, especially lately bundled up to be outside in the subzero weather.

Vitamin E supplements

Nuts contain high levels of vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin. Of all nuts, almonds contain the most vitamin E. Tufts University researchers have found that a daily vitamin E supplement of 200 IU may help the elderly in long-term care facilities to avoid getting colds. A small handful of nuts a day is a good thing.

Mushrooms

What possible benefit could there be in mushrooms? They contain a type of soluble polysaccharide, beta-glucan, noted to lower bad (LDL) cholesterol, regulate blood sugar and boost immunity. Not all beta-glucans are created equal, however. To date, only those in mushrooms have been found to increase macrophage activity in the body, which is important in warding off infection. Mushrooms are great on pizza, in a stirfry, added to homemade soups, included in casseroles and sauteed with onions and peppers.

Yogurt

Not just any yogurt will boost your immunity. A German study found that probiotics may shorten a cold episode by almost two days, but not all bacterial strains in yogurts have immune-boosting qualities. Strains that have been scientifically shown to prevent colds and improve immune response include Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus reuteri. So a daily dose of yogurt just may help keep you at work through the winter months.

Zinc lozenges

Zinc lozenges were a popular item in the 1980s and 90s. However, scientists reviewed studies that investigated the benefits of zinc and found only one study that showed benefits and four studies that showed no benefits. Zinc that is found in meat, however, is important to immunity.

Green tea

Last but not least, have a cup of green tea. Green tea extracts provide more virus-fighting interferon, thereby improving immune function. Green tea contains higher levels of catechins, a type of antioxidant, than black tea, but black tea is still beneficial, you just have to drink more of it.

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor. She provides nutrition consultant services through Mainely Nutrition in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.

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