Boosting your immune system is more important than ever as we head into winter 2020. The combination of winter flu and COVID-19 has the potential to be deadly for some people, and to put the NHS under immense strain.
Government advice for the over 65s is to get your free flu vaccination as soon as possible. People with pre-existing conditions should also make every effort to get vaccinated. For those under 65 or without a pre-existing condition, the flu jab costs less than £13, and is a very important step to take.
As well as ensuring your flu vaccination is in place, there are plenty of other steps you can take to boost your immune system. Exercise, a healthy diet, vitamins and supplements can all help you avoid flu and keep your immune system in the best shape possible throughout the winter.
Different supplements for flu that can decrease symptoms
There is no guarantee, of course, that any supplement or diet will definitely protect you from flu, but there is plenty of evidence to show that certain supplements can help reduce your chances of suffering flu symptoms.
Supplements for flu are an accessible and easy way to put some extra protections in place. There appears to be compelling evidence from scientists about the link between dietary supplements and immune system functionality. Take a look at the following supplements for flu and use them as a start point to chat to your GP. Always check with your doctor before you add supplements or anything new into your daily diet and regime.
1. N-acetylcysteine (NAC)
NAC is an antioxidant and an amino acid commonly sold as an over the counter nutritional supplement. It has also been used for the past 50 years medically to protect the liver when people have been poisoned by acetaminophen (paracetamol) and to loosen mucus in people with chronic bronchitis.
NAC is needed by the body to produce glutathione, which is one of the most important antioxidants. A scientific study in Italy showed that NAC helped to slow down or prevent symptoms of H1N1 flu in just under two-thirds of patients. Another group of patients took a placebo and the results were measured against them. People either had the placebo or 600mg of NAC twice a day for six months. During the trial time, more than 25% of all patients developed H1N1 antibodies. Among the placebo group, 79% developed flu symptoms but among the NAC group only 25% developed flu symptoms.
Patients in the NAC group that did develop flu symptoms found they were significantly milder than the placebo group. There was also a definite improvement in immune function in the NAC group throughout the study when compared with the placebo group. NAC also supports the effectiveness of a number of different medications, including those that treat depression, IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and high blood pressure.
2. Vitamin D
Most people know that Vitamin D is important to keep your bones healthy. This is because it helps your bones absorb calcium. But it also stimulates the immune system to produce cathelicidns and defensins. These are factors that actively kill viruses.
We get most of the Vitamin D in our bodies from sunlight. Many people experience low levels of Vitamin D in darker months, usually the winter months. Researchers speculate whether this lack of Vitamin D in the winter months is linked with the increase of risk of flu and colds.
A study on postmenopausal women showed that Vitamin D supplements helped to stave off the usual increase in cold and flu symptoms during the winter. The study used a dose of 800 or more international units every day of Vitamin D3, and the better protective result was linked with higher doses (at least 2000 IUs/day).
3. Panax cinquefolium (American Ginseng)
Ginseng is a herb that stimulates the immune system. Research shows that American ginseng extract can help to slow down or decrease the chances of developing respiratory symptoms and colds during the winter.
A controlled study among older adults showed that 200mg of ginseng taken twice a day for 12 weeks decreased cases of flu by 84%. [J Am Geriatr Soc.2004 Jan;52(1):13-9. “A placebo-controlled trial of a proprietary extract of North American ginseng (CVT-E002) to prevent acute respiratory illness in institutionalized older adults.” McElhaney JE, Gravenstein S, Cole SK, Davidson E, O’neill D, Petitjean S, Rumble B, Shan JJ.]
The placebo group showed 7% of new flu infections. In the American ginseng group showed 1% of new flu infections. The supplement also slowed down the development of other respiratory infections in the participants.
4. Selenium and zinc taken together
Scientific studies show that minerals selenium and zinc have clinically significant effects on the immune system. A French study showed that older adults who took 100mcg of selenium and 20mg of zinc every day increased their antibodies after the flu vaccine. They were also discovered to be less likely to develop a respiratory infection over a 24-month period.
However, it’s worth noting that the people who took part in this study were also taking a combination of beta-carotene, Vitamin C and Vitamin E. This showed an undesirable slowdown in antibody response. When both were combined, the positive effect of the minerals offset the negative impact of the vitamins.
These studies are generally carried out on older people. This is because they are the group most at risk of serious illness and death from flu. We’ve also learned in 2020 that the same applies to older people with COVID-19. They are most at risk of death or severe symptoms.