Best and Worst Natural Cold and Flu Remedies

Susan Feliciano


Some winter advice from Prevention Magazine.
Flu shots, hand washing, healthy eating, and regular exercise are the best ways to avoid cold and flu.



pinch tips: How to Keep Knives Sharp Like a Pro




No-Cook or Other


omega 3's
vitamin d
ginseng-powered supplements
vitamin c

Directions Step-By-Step

Sometimes even the most scrupulous germphobes and healthy people get sick anyway. While certain natural remedies can help shorten symptoms—or prevent infection entirely—many people waste money on measures that are all hype. Here's how to know the difference so you can get well faster—without wasting a penny.
Omega 3s ~ The Verdict: Helps
Take it: All season long
If you don't like or eat a lot of fish, pop an omega-3 supplement daily to reap the fatty acid's impressive immune-fortifying properties. Omega 3s increase the activity of phagocytes—cells that fight flu by eating up bacteria and other invaders—according to a study by Britain's Institute of Human Nutrition and School of Medicine. Other research shows that omega-3s increase airflow and protect lungs from colds and respiratory infections.
Look for purified fish oil capsules that contain at least 1 g (that's 1,000mg) combined of EPA and DHA.
Astragalus ~ The Verdict: Helps
Take it: All season long
This Chinese root is shown to stimulate the white blood cells that fight infection, says Prevention advisor Andrew Weil, MD. A study published in 2007 found that astragalus appears to boost immunity in mice. And a pilot study suggests that the herb may have similar effects in people. However, keep in mind that astragalus may take 6 to 8 weeks to reach its full effect.
Echinacea ~ The Verdict: Hype
If taken at the start of a cold, this herb might shorten duration and severity of symptoms. But some brands don't contain the amount of echinacea listed on the label—and some formulas have none at all. Possible side effects include wheezing, rash, and diarrhea.
Vitamin D ~ The Verdict: Helps
Take it: All season long
This power nutrient may effectively boost immunity and help prevent colds, a Harvard study shows. People with the lowest vitamin D levels were 36% more likely to have upper respiratory infections, compared with those with the most D. (Asthma patients with low levels of D were nearly 6 times as likely to get sick as those with the greatest amounts.) Adequate amounts of D help produce cathelicidin, a protein with virus-killing qualities.
Since it's tough to get enough from sunlight or diet (fish and fortified dairy are the best sources), you'll need a supplement to attain optimal levels, says study author Carlos A. Camargo Jr., MD. Aim for at least 1,000 IU daily.
Ginseng-powered supplements ~ The Verdict: Help
Take it: When you feel sick
Consider taking this supplement, which contains North American ginseng extract, when you feel a cold coming on. Subjects who took two daily capsules of Cold-fX caught half as many colds as a group taking a placebo, according to a study by the Center for Immunotherapy of Cancer and Infectious Diseases at the University of Connecticut. When they did get sick, their symptoms lasted less than half as long. This particular ginseng variety contains compounds that increase white blood cells and interleukins, proteins the immune system relies on.
Zinc ~ The Verdict: Helps
Take it: When you feel sick
The research on this mineral is conflicting. Still, "30 mg taken at the very start of a cold will shorten it by about half a day," says David L. Katz, MD, MPH, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. Look for Zicam or Cold-Eeze. By slowing the multiplication of the virus in the nose and throat, these products appear to shorten colds.
But don't overdo it. While even a slight deficiency in zinc, which is needed to produce white blood cells, can increase your risk of infection, more than 50 mg daily can suppress your immune system and block absorption of other essential minerals.
Vitamin C
The Verdict: Hype
There's certainly no downside to eating a lot of C-rich foods, such as red peppers and citrus fruits. But taking a vitamin for extra protection won't help. A 2007 review of 30 studies found no evidence that vitamin C supplementation prevents colds in the normal population. Plus, megadoses can cause kidney stones, upset stomach, and even internal bleeding in children.
I still swear by Vitamin C, myself. I take 500mg daily, plus what is in my B-complex - about 200mg. I don't get many colds, and I think it helps with prevention.

About this Recipe

Course/Dish: Other Non-Edibles
Main Ingredient: Non-Edible or Other
Regional Style: American
Other Tag: Healthy