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The best vitamins and supplements for fighting cold and flu season

According to the United States Center for Disease Control, adults have an average of 2-3 colds per year. This is in addition to millions of cases of influenza that are also reported each flu season, which is normally from November through March in the U.S.

Given this prevalence, it is no surprise that there are endless myths about supplements to fight a cold, or vitamins to shorten the duration of the flu. How do you navigate the old folk tales and the shelves full of herbal remedies to find something that really works? We’ve laid out the science to help you make the right choices.

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Treatment: the top 4 supplements to take if you get sick

For all of us, the chances are that eventually we will catch the occasional cold or flu. There is some emerging scientific evidence supporting the benefits of these remedies once you do get sick.

Dr. Jeffrey Gladd, and integrative physician, says, “The data on the illness-helping effect of these supplements always favors beginning as soon as possible. Put together an ‘illness’ kit and keep it with you on the road or wherever you go, to start as soon as symptoms develop.”

Here are four vitamins and supplements to keep on hand for those times you aren't feeling your best.

1. Vitamin C can provide symptomatic relief for some people

Over the years, there has been a lot of conflicting research on whether vitamin C is beneficial for prevention and treatment of cold and flu. A meta-analysis of clinical research determined that vitamin C is not likely to prevent cold and flu, but for some people, may be effective for symptomatic relief.

2. Zinc supports healthy immune function

We know that zinc provides immune support, so it’s not a surprise that it has shown to be effective in helping you recover from a cold too. For the biggest impact, take it in combination with vitamin C.

3. Elderberry: an ancient herbal remedy

This herbal remedy for viral infections has been popular for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It was a staple of the ancient apothecary and some scientific studies support the potential for this vitamin- and antioxidant-rich berry might help fight off the cold and flu. While it hasn’t been shown to prevent these diseases, there is some evidence that elderberry can shorten their duration, making it a good option for fighting cold and flu.

4. Take advantage of ginger's anti-inflammatory properties

This is one of the best supplements for fighting the flu, not just because of its potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, but because it is known to help soothe a troubled tummy. If you don't enjoy the spicy kick of a ginger tea, it also comes in capsule form to bypass your tastebuds.

Prevention: when a good defense is the best offense

When it comes to staving off a cold, there is not a lot of evidence about effective vitamins or supplements for preventing these common illnesses. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do! Pay attention to these 5 important lifestyle factors for staying healthy as much as you can.

1. Eat a healthy diet.

This can mean a lot of different things to different people. Dietary choices are personal and complicated, but what’s really important is eating a diet rich in a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables that is high in important phytochemicals like antioxidants. Be sure you are eating enough to maintain a healthy metabolism, especially in the colder months.

2. Exercise regularly.

A study conducted at Appalachian State University found that taking a brisk walk for 20 minutes per day, at least five days each week, reduced the number of sick days a person could expect to take each winter by 40%. The exercise was discovered to be a long-term immune booster.

3. Wash your hands.

This may seem obvious, but one of the best ways to avoid getting a cold or the flu is to make sure to wash your hands frequently. No need for anything special like recently-banned antibacterial chemicals or waterway-polluting microbeads. Any basic soap or alcohol gel will do.

More than that, make sure that when you’re out and about, you keep your hands away from your face as much as possible. Use a disposable tissue when you cough or sneeze, or cover your mouth with the inside of your elbow instead.

4. Take time to meditate.

In a study from Carnegie Mellon University, researchers found that stress played a direct role in the inflammatory response when the immune system is challenged. The most frequent symptoms of the common cold are actually the manifestation of this inflammatory response, evidence that the body is fighting against the virus. The less stressed participants were, the less likely they were to get sick with a cold.

You can help prevent a cold by keeping stress levels low: meditate, do yoga, or tai chi, or some other embodied movement, or hug someone!

5. Eat or supplement with garlic.

Mostly praised for its ability to improve the taste of your meal, and fight off vampires, garlic also packs powerful immune system protection! A clinical study shows that a garlic supplement with high allicin content can actually decrease the incidence of colds, and assist in quicker recovery. Another study shows that aged garlic can increase and enhance some of the active immune cells in the human body.

The common cold and the winter flu season are inevitabilities we all must deal with, but few of us have the luxury of unlimited sick days. Follow these tips to mitigate your risk of developing inconvenient sickness that keeps you from being your best self.