From the Desk of Jordan Rubin: The Cold and Flu Season Is Nearly Over, Thank Goodness
As spring buds around the country, we’re getting close to the end of the official cold and flu season. For me, though, it seems like it’s still the cold and flu season since I fly somewhere every week because of my commitment to the Perfect Weight America tour. Whenever I board a plane, I just pray that I won’t be sitting next to someone sneezing up a storm between takeoff and touchdown.
Whenever I feel a cold or flu comes charging my way, I go into a defensive mode and take more supplements to give my body the extra defenders it needs to prevent a cold or flu from scoring. Vitamin C happens to be just one of those supplements, but I also think echinacea, zinc, elderberry, wild oregano, hyssop, and goldenseal are worthwhile “defenders” against a cold and flu offensive.
At the first sign of a sniffle, Americans are increasingly looking for a supplement that can help them instead of purchasing an over-the-counter remedy for a cold or flu, so let’s take a closer look at some of these cold and flu supplements:
Echinacea. It’s better to take this herb from the purple coneflower in the early stages of a cold or flu because it is not an antibiotic, meaning that it doesn’t kill germs. Also, echinacea stimulates the production of white blood cells, which can speed to the area of infection and do battle with germy invaders. Science is suggesting that echinacea—when taken early in a cold—may be one of the more promising cold remedies on the market. A recent analysis in the Lancet Infectious Disease Journal showed that echinacea shorted colds by an average of 1.4 days and reduced the odds of getting a cold by 58 percent.
Zinc. I grew up sucking on zinc lozenges whenever cold symptoms paid a visit. The lozenges release zinc ions into the mouth where they go directly to the infected nasal tissues. Zinc is a crucial nutrient for optimal immune system function. According to research findings reported in Annals of Internal Medicine, zinc lozenges shortened cold duration significantly, and Michael Macknin, Ph.D. and co-worker at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, reported that colds lasted only 4.4 days compared with 7.6 days in the placebo group.
The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine reports that not all zinc lozenges are effective, probably due to different formulations. The best zinc lozenges to use contain the amino acid glycine as a sweetener instead of agents like sorbitol and mannitol. If you feel a cold coming on, you may find that dissolving a zinc lozenge in your mouth every couple of hours to be an effective remedy, but zinc’s bitter taste and tendency to irritate the mouth can be a problem for some.
Elderberry. This herb from a fragrant, flowering tree contains antioxidant flavonoids that stabilize cells walls against foreign intruders like flu and cold viruses. Teas made from elderberry fruits or flowers have been a folklore treatment for colds and flu for centuries. Researchers believe that elderberry has an ability to stop flu viruses from replicating, which is the end of the ballgame since flu viruses must reproduce or they cannot infect the body. A study conducted in 2003 showed that elderberry reduced symptoms and shortened the duration of flu in fifty-four participants between the ages of eighteen and fifty-four. On average, these flu patients recovered in 3.1 days, compared to 7.1 days for those given a placebo.
Elderberry is available in powders, capsules, and liquid fruit extract. Taking a liquid extract or tablet preparation is the way most people prefer to use elderberry against a respiratory infection.
Goldenseal. This herb, which grows as a wild plant in moist, mountainous areas of North America, can help relieve the inflammation of mucous membranes and stop cold and flu viruses from multiplying. Goldenseal is said to work well with echinacea, so you might want to consider taking a combination herbal supplement containing goldenseal and echinacea. The book Prescription for Nutritional Healing cautions against taking goldenseal on a daily basis for more than a week or using it all if you are pregnant or nursing.
Vitamin C. Last, but not least, Americans spend more money on vitamin C, roughly $300 million a year, than on any other immune-boosting supplement. A lot of people have heard that they should “mega-dose” on vitamin C when they feel a cold coming on. That’s because of a revolutionary book, Vitamin C and the Common Cold, written by Linus Pauling, Ph.D., that was released back in the mid-1970s, when I was born. Dr. Pauling postulated that taking 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C daily would reduce the incidence of colds by 45 percent for most people. A thousand milligrams (or 1 gram) happened to be a massive amount of vitamin C because the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 60 mg.
The answer depends on who you listen to. Alternative medicine practitioners say that there are “numerous studies” showing that people who take large doses of vitamin C report reductions in the incidence, severity, and duration of colds, but traditional medicine remains unconvinced. The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine summed up this dichotomy, saying, “Since 1970, there have been over twenty double-blind studies designed to test Pauling’s assertion. Yet despite the fact that in every study the group that received vitamin C had a decrease either in duration or in severity of symptoms, for some reason the clinical effect is still debated in the medical community.”
Here’s where I come down on taking vitamin C and other supplements for cold and flu symptoms, and I’ll express myself through the use of a football metaphor. Pretend that the Cold Warriors have the football and your team is playing defense. The Cold Warriors—those agents trying to score on your body—are constantly attacking, constantly probing your immune system. Most of the time you’re able to stop them. On this offensive set of downs, the Cold Warriors are in a third-down-and-long situation, so your team adds an extra pass defender to guard against the long completion.
That’s the same idea when it comes to using supplements. When a cold or flu comes charging my way, I go into a defensive mode and take more supplements to give my body the extra defenders it needs to prevent a cold or flu from scoring.