Man with cold - do supplements work?

Are there any proven ways to avoid catching a cold?

Yes, but… avoid is a bit strong. Minimize? Definitely.

Colds can strike any time of the year – especially if you have kids in school! In fact, the younger those kids are, the more likely they are to bring a cold home.

It’s not because they have less immunity – it’s because young kids tend to share everything from food to mucus. OK… if you’re not a parent you didn’t need to know that 🙂

Of course, the risk of inhaling cold germs is much greater in crowded areas. Think shopping malls and movie theatres (although when I watched the doco 2040 last week, there were only eight others sharing that 500 seat cinema with me. Sad because it’s well worth watching.)

This is a gratuitous plug for a VERY important subject matter!

Anyway, moving right along…

In this post we’re going to look at whether supplements really do help. We’ll also explore ways that you can minimise the risks and stay healthy throughout the year – summer and winter.

Do these supplements prevent colds?

Vitamin C

Researchers have been testing the commonly held belief that vitamin C is the best home remedy for colds and flu for more than 75 years! A comprehensive review of many of those studies found that there was some evidence that regular vitamin C supplements could reduce the duration of a cold. The key word is duration.

Unfortunately, vitamin C’s effectiveness for preventing or reducing the length of a cold once symptoms have started hasn’t been proven in therapeutic trials.

None-the-less, vitamin C is a critically important addition to your diet, giving many benefits in addition to cold relief. And while taking C as a supplement won’t hurt, it’s probably an avoidable expense.

Foods rich in Vitamin C
Foods rich in Vitamin C

You can naturally and significantly, boost your immune system by adding fresh citrus fruits – oranges, limes and lemons, as well as vegetables such as tomatoes, broccoli and capsicum to your menu. Green leafy vegetables like lettuce are also high in vitamin C.

The bottom line on vitamin C is that while it can’t guarantee to keep your household cold-free, it has been clinically proven to help keep your skin, bones and connective tissue healthy. It’s also very important in supporting wound healing.

It will also save you from the horrors of a resurgent scurvy! Yes, this disease, once the scourge of sailors, has made a spectacular comeback due to poor diets and an overdependence on convenience foods.

Humble garlic

Fresh garlic is chocablock full of essential nutrients. These include vitamin C, B6 and zinc – all linked to the immune system.

Garlic has also been shown to have antimicrobial, antifungal and antiviral properties and there is a single, small scale study concluding that garlic can indeed, help prevent colds.

Until further evidence is confirmed, rest assured that the range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidant properties are more than enough reason to keep few bulbs in your pantry.

As always, fresh is best and it’s a great flavour addition to any meal!


While there are nine varieties of the herb, echinacea, it is E. purpurea that is commonly sold as a supplement. It is often combined in pills or capsules with vitamin C, zinc and garlic extract.

Echinacea has been heavily promoted in recent years as giving significant relief from both the severity and duration of colds. Unfortunately, the quality and quantity of the ingredients in echinacea-based products can vary greatly. For example, the variety or part of the plant used, how it’s manufactured and even where it is grown.

These variables have made it very difficult for researchers to accurately assess the immune-boosting benefits of echinacea and its effectiveness in treating a cold.

Even so, studies dating back to 1981 have established that it is possible that some forms of echinacea could contribute to the prevention rather than treatment of colds.

At this stage, the evidence is not strong enough to be considered conclusive but taking a quality brand of Echinacea is probably a smart move at the very first signs of a cold in the family.


Zinc is known to be as critical to many bodily functions as vitamin C is. Among those is it’s importance in maintaining mucosal tissue in a healthy state. That alone may have an effect in preventing the ingress of the cold virus.

However, there is no conclusive proof that zinc either prevents or reduces the duration of colds. None-the-less, given it’s importance in maintaining our health, always ensure you are getting adequate zinc in your diet.

Olive Leaf Extract

Ok, first you have to get past the taste! The two varieties that I have used have such a high sweetener content that they are – to put it mildly – challenging. Surely the natural taste cannot be worse than the concocted version? But does it work?

While olive leaf extract is the new kid on the block from a marketing aspect, the remedy is said to be aeons old. There does not appear to be any large scale study however, there are multiple small studies that suggest it could aid in the relief of cold symptoms.

St. Johns Wort

While there is evidence that St Johns Wort is a very useful herbal aid for the treatment of depression, irritability, mood swings, PMS and even the side effects of menopause, there is no evidence that it can prevent colds. However, given that there are more than 300 varieties of the herb, clinical trials would be challenging.

One this is certain – St Johns Wort is a powerful remedy and should not be used by anyone on any medication, without first consulting your physician.

The verdict is in!

The good news is that adding supplements to your diet won’t cause you any harm. They may even do you some good when taken as directed.

The bad news is that there is no hard evidence that any of the above – vitamin C, echinacea, garlic, zinc, olive leaf extract or St Johns Wort – can prevent or reduce the symptoms or duration of the common cold or flu.

So what is proven?

Good Daily habits!

When you’re getting enough sleep, eating well, and practising healthy hygiene, you’ll be less likely to catch a cold. A healthy lifestyle including a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will definitely ensure a strong immune system more effectively and at less cost than supplements can.

Our tips to help prevent and manage a cold

Eat a rainbow for good health!
Eat a rainbow of fruits health! (Click to enlarge)

“Eat a rainbow” by adding plenty of colour to your plate. Hearty soups and stir fries are a great way to up your daily serve of vitamin-rich veggies and to make your tastebuds and immune system happy. Pair with lean meat or legumes for protein. Add some complex carbohydrates such as sweet potato or brown rice for energy.

Stay hydrated. This seems so obvious and yet most of us do not consume sufficient water. Remember that tea, coffee and alcohol are all diuretic… they take more water from your body than they put in.

Wash your hands. Again, it’s obvious. Washing your hands with soap before preparing meals or sitting down to eat lunch, is a simple, yet incredibly effective way to stop the transfer of cold-causing germs.

Man with cold - do supplements work?
Bin those tissues immediately after use!

Clean as you go! Bin any tissues immediately after use. If there is already a cold in your home or workplace, use an antibacterial cloth to wipe down surfaces that can harbour germs. Think your desk at work, busy areas of your home such as kitchen benches or the kids’ play area. Also consider wiping down door handles at the end of each day.

Rest and sit it out if you do have a cold! Take some time out to support your recovery by resting at home. You might also avoid spreading the virus to your friends, family and workmates! And finally, please always remember to cough or sneeze into your elbow to keep your germs to yourself. Remember that guy in the supermarket who sneezed all over you?



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