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Beyond Vitamin C

Nutrients you may not know to fight colds and flu

Beyond Vitamin C for Cold and Flu Prevention

Once again, we're in the midst of cold and flu season, and many of us are taking extra precautions in the hopes of staving off germs.

Some of these practices are genuinely effective ways to decrease the risk of getting sick, like regularly washing hands, and deftly avoiding doorknobs and elevator buttons. However, you may be overlooking others and overrating one in particular — loading up on vitamin C.

"Vitamin C always gets great PR this time of year, but it's actually overrated, and its media attention is unwarranted," says Jean Alves, MS, RD, LDN, a clinical dietitian with the Nutrition and Wellness Center at Rush University Medical Center.

No need for extra vitamin C

While ingesting too little vitamin C may make you more vulnerable to the common cold, vitamin C deficiency is decidedly uncommon.

It is recommended that adult men get 90 mg of vitamin C daily, and adult women get 75 mg daily.

To put these amounts in perspective, men and women get more than their daily dose in just half a cup of red bell peppers, which provides about 95 mg. You can also get more than your daily dose from one 8-ounce glass of 100 percent orange juice.

Studies show that there are few to no benefits of getting extra vitamin C. Mega doses of the nutrient definitely do not keep you from getting sick, and it may not do much to relieve your symptoms once you become sick.

Less popular, but more protective

However, says Alves, there are other players in the food field that are more deserving of attention, even though they may not be household names:

  • Luteolin – a flavonoid (compound synthesized by plants) found in rosemary, sage, thyme and artichokes that may act as a natural antihistamine and sooth congestion and other respiratory symptoms.
  • Quercetin – a flavonoid found in apples, berries, plums and red onions that supports lung health and may relieve chest and nasal congestion.
  • Selenium – an antioxidant mineral that may decrease the duration of flu symptoms, including lung inflammation; You can get this nutrient from meats, nuts, whole grains and shellfish.
  • Zinc – a mineral found in beans, seeds, grains and poultry. "There is evidence that zinc may reduce the severity of symptoms and shorten the duration of the common cold," Alves says.

To really protect yourself from cold and flu this winter, skip the vitamin C supplements. "Instead, focus on eating a balanced and varied diet every day, especially one that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole foods," Alves says. "And, of course, keep washing your hands!"