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Does taking vitamin C for flu and colds work?

Does taking vitamin C for flu and colds work? Discover the truth and tips for staying healthy during cold and flu season.

Emily Paulsen
August 28, 2023
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True or false: Taking vitamin C for flu or colds can keep you from getting sick.

False. Eating foods high in vitamin C — like oranges, peppers, broccoli, strawberries and tomatoes — is good for your body and overall health. But taking vitamin C won't prevent you from getting the flu or a cold — or from getting COVID-19.

If you take vitamin C regularly and catch a cold or the flu, your symptoms may not be so bad. But if you take vitamin C when you already have a cold or flu, it won't affect how long you're sick or how sick you get.

Which supplements could help your cold or flu?

Nobody wants to get sick, which is why we're always looking for that tip or trick to prevent colds and flu or at least make them go away faster. So, if vitamin C for flu and colds isn't the cure-all, could other supplements help?

Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that helps build a strong immune system — and a strong immune system helps fight colds and flu. Foods that provide zinc include oysters, beef, oats and pumpkin seeds. Taking zinc as a lozenge or syrup when you have a cold may help you feel better sooner. But too much zinc can make you feel nauseous or dizzy or cause vomiting. Nasal sprays that contain zinc can affect your ability to smell.

Echinacea

Echinacea is the Latin name for purple coneflower, which may be growing in your garden. Some people take dietary supplements or drink teas containing echinacea during cold and flu season. Studies have shown that taking echinacea may help people avoid getting a cold or feel better sooner. But the results are inconsistent, so don't count on it working for you. Short-term use of echinacea is generally considered safe, although some people are allergic to it.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is best known for its role in helping the body absorb calcium and build strong bones. It also plays a role in the immune system and fighting infections. Some people — including older adults, people with dark skin or people who don't spend time outside — may not get enough vitamin D from food or sunlight exposure. If you have low levels of vitamin D, you may get colds, the flu or other infections more often. But if you already get enough vitamin D, taking supplements likely won't affect your risk of getting sick.

How can you avoid colds and flu?

Aside from a healthy diet, you can take other steps to reduce your chances of a bad cold or flu this season.

Catch some z's

When you're well-rested, your body can fight off infections and viruses better.

Stay hydrated

Drinking water and other fluids is essential for overall health. Your body needs water to maintain body temperature, move waste through your system and protect tissues and joints.

Wash your hands

During the COVID-19 pandemic, you probably got used to washing your hands with soap and water or using hand sanitizer frequently. Keep up the good work! Washing your hands is one of the best ways to avoid getting colds and flu — reducing overall colds by 20%. Germs often travel from person to person via unwashed hands. When someone with a cold touches a surface like a doorknob that you then touch, you may transfer the germ into your body. A few days later, you start sniffling. When washing your hands, lather up with clean water and soap for at least 20 seconds.

Keep your distance or wear a mask

Another habit you probably picked up during the pandemic is to stay 6 feet away from others or wear a mask around someone who may be sick. Why 6 feet? When someone sneezes or coughs, droplets that contain germs go into the air. If you're close by, you can breathe in those droplets and become sick. If you're the one who's not feeling well, do your part by staying home from work or school so you don't spread your illness to others.

Get a flu shot

The best way to avoid getting the flu this season is to get a flu shot. Flu viruses are constantly changing, so researchers develop a new vaccine each year. Effectiveness varies from year to year, but getting vaccinated can reduce your chances of getting the flu by 40% to 60%. Even if you get the flu, you're less likely to become severely ill or hospitalized. The best time to get a flu shot is before flu season starts — September or October in most parts of the country.

Staying healthy this cold and flu season

Nobody wants to get sick if they can avoid it. So, to reduce your chances of getting a cold or flu, eat a healthy diet that gives your body the vitamins and minerals it needs to fight infection, get enough sleep, wash your hands, protect yourself around people who are sick and get the flu shot each year.

Published:
August 28, 2023

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