With the nights starting to cool, you may find you’re developing a slight sniffle. Does this warrant for antibiotics or cold and flu medication, or perhaps your immune system can handle it? Maybe you could just take something to help give your immune system a boost, writes Debby Liu.
Here are the three most common ingredients found in cold and flu vitamins that may help give your immune system a wake-up call: Garlic, Echinacea and Zinc.
Garlic was not only used in the past to drive away vampires, but it was often given to people to drive away different types of ailments, from fevers in Egypt to the plague in France, and a little more recently, gangrene during the two world wars.
It’s believed that the main active component, allicin, accounts for garlic’s antibiotic activity. One study showed that allicin containing garlic preparations significantly reduced the incidence of colds and helped with faster recovery.
Echinacea was used by Native Americans for snakebites, oral lesions and pain, sepsis, coughs, sore throat, colic and stomach aches. It was also used in the past for scarlet fever, syphilis, malaria, blood poisoning and diphtheria. Its use only became less popular when antibiotics came into the picture.
A review of the studies done on Echinacea found that there is some evidence to show that preparations based on the aerial parts of Echinacea purpurea might be effective for the early treatment of colds in adults.
Zinc is an essential trace mineral and is the second most abundant mineral in the body after iron. It has many functions in the body, including protecting the liver against chemical damage, helping with detoxification of the body, and is important for healthy immune system. Zinc helps support our immune system but preventing rhinoviruses from binding to our cells.
We can get zinc from our diet such as from eggs, miso, tofu, mushrooms and green beans. However, the zinc in these food sources may be poorly absorbed. Zinc from animal foods such as oysters, red meats, shrimp, crab and other shellfish are better absorbed.
As zinc absorption from foods varies from 20% to 40% of ingested zinc, taking zinc supplements can help supplement our dietary intake. This is in particular for those at high risk of deficiency such as the elderly, who have been shown to have improved immune system function and reduced incidence of illness when taking zinc supplements.
Whilst these components of cold and flu vitamins come from a ‘natural’ source, they can still cause side effects in some individuals, can still be unsuitable if you have certain medical conditions, and can also still interact with some medications. If unsure, always speak to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any vitamins.