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5 cold and flu remedies

Reviews — Posted 09/06/14

What vitamins and nutrients really help with a cold? Dietitian Emma Williams compares what's out there and what works.

You’ve probably heard it a million times: there’s no cure for the common cold. But by filling up on immunity-boosting vitamins and nutrients, you can help soothe some of your symptoms and increase your chances of a swift recovery.

Accredited Practising Dietitian Emma Williams shares the top nutrients to try.

1. Vitamin C

When you’re already sick, getting some extra foods high in vitamin C has been proven to shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms.

Vitamin C lowers levels of histamine, a defensive chemical released by the immune system that is responsible for causing ‘stuffiness’ and other cold and flu symptoms. At the same time, it appears to strengthen white blood cells, which are essential for fighting infection.

Good food sources of vitamin C include berries, citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, capsicums and broccoli.

2. Zinc

Zinc has long been appreciated for its immune-boosting power and may help to shorten the duration of a cold. Zinc gluconate and zinc acetate lozenges (a great alternative to sugar laden throat lollies) are readily available over the counter at pharmacies.

You can also get more zinc in your diet with lean poulty, some types of seafood, beans, nuts, wholegrains and fortified cereals.

3. Garlic

Garlic has been used throughout history for treating virtually every type of infection. There is increasing evidence that it can help protect against colds and flu as well. Garlic contains dozens of chemically active compounds. Two of them, allicin and allin have been shown to kill germs directly.


"Zinc has long been appreciated for its immune-boosting power and may help to shorten the duration of a cold." 


4. Echinacea

The people who use echinacea to treat symptoms of a cold or flu have the right idea. It may stimulate the body’s immune system through photochemicals called alkylamides.

5. Olive leaf extract

Some of the bioactive phytochemicals in olive leaf extract, especially oleuropein, are said to enhance the immune system in multiple ways. Firstly, they may improve immune function by attacking the flu virus once symptoms are present. Additionally, the replication of viruses responsible for the common cold and flu may be interfered with by the bioactive phytochemicals in olive leaf extract. However, although there is some laboratory evidence for these effects, clinical evidence in humans is inconclusive.

Olive leaf can be taken as a liquid concentrate, dried leaf tea, powder, or capsule. The leaf extracts can be taken in powder, liquid concentrate, or capsule form.

A note on supplements

Once caught, there is no effective cure for the misery of the common cold, so it's hardly surprising that many of us reach for vitamins as a complementary therapy. However, we must be sure to weigh up health risks associated with taking high levels of supplements. For example, taking large doses of vitamin C may cause diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, headaches, fatigue or even kidney stones.

While taking a vitamin supplement possesses little health risk in the short term, and may benefit a person who has a deficiency, taking vitamin and mineral supplements instead of eating a nutritious diet is not recommended and should be viewed as a short term measure.

Wherever possible, try to get your vitamins and nutrients from food sources as part of a balanced diet, rather than relying on supplements.

For more information on using vitamins and supplements for heatlh, visit

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