Blog Post

Best Supplements for the Common Cold

woman snifflesThe holidays are here and along with all those great gifts, yummy cookies and happy reunions comes a less welcome guest – the common cold. If this visitor comes to your home this Christmas, try a few of these inexpensive supplements to make sure it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

The Daily Mail is reporting on the work of medical nutritionist Dr. Sarah Brewer, author of Eat Well, Stay Well, who reveals which of nature’s cold remedies are worth trying.


The first recommendation is an herbal remedy derived from the root of a South African geranium plant called Pelargonium sidoides. Known locally as Umckabloabo, which means “for heavy cough and chest problems,” it can relieve cold symptoms such as sore throat, cough and a runny nose in as little as 24 hours. It should be taken three times a day for three days to make sure the symptoms don’t return.

41805915 - geranium pelargonium“Trials suggest it stops some types of cold and flu virus replicating by increasing the rate at which the cilia (the nose hairs) move – helping to expel mucus,” Dr. Brewer reports. “It also blocks the landing sites that bacteria need to stick to cell walls. This means they are more easily brought up as mucus is cleared from the airways.”

In addition, it stimulates the action of immune cells that engulf and kill bacteria and viruses.

This study, appearing on PubMed, concluded that Pelargonium “represents an effective treatment of the common cold. It significantly reduces the severity of symptoms and shortens the duration of the common cold compared with placebo. The herbal drug is well tolerated.”

Dr. Brewer cites a study in the Journal of Family Practice which stated: “Pelargonium sidoides (30 drops 3 times a day) reduced the severity and duration of common cold symptoms and to get patients back to work sooner.”

Pelargonium sidoides was also shown to be significantly more effective than placebo in treating acute bronchitis and was found to be useful in treating tonsillitis.


Also known as Purple Coneflower, this is a traditional herbal remedy that was first used by Native American Indians to treat blood poisoning, snake bites, boils, fever, eczema and to relieve allergic reactions. Three species are now used medicinally: Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida.

14666793 - healing herbs and amortar. alternative medicine conceptEchinacea purpurea has been shown to boost the activity of white blood cells which are responsible for attacking infections. It can help speed recovery in patients with colds or the flu.

“The strongest evidence for effectiveness against colds comes from studies using Echinacea purpurea,” Dr. Brewer reports. “Data from 14 studies, involving almost 3,000 volunteers, included some who already had cold symptoms and some who were deliberately exposed to cold viruses. The combined results showed taking Echinacea decreased the odds of developing a cold by 58 per cent, and shortened the duration of a cold by 1.4 days.”

Research also indicates that Echinacea purpurea, when taken at the onset of a cold, gets rid of symptoms quicker.

While promising, the Mayo Clinic warns that even though some studies have found Echinacea to be helpful other studies found no benefit, partly because Echinacea products can contain different concentrations of the herb and can come from different parts of the plant. This makes it difficult to compare studies. The Clinic also warns that it has the potential to interact with other medications so patients are advised to speak with their doctor first before using.


23382881 - collage of products containing zincZinc is a metal known as an “essential trace element” of which a very small amount is necessary for human health. But this tiny amount has been shown to boost the immune system and reduce the duration of the common cold by up to three days. It has also been found to be helpful in treating recurring ear infections and preventing pneumonia.

As Dr. Brewer reports, the US National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states: “Oral zinc lozenges may reduce the duration of the common cold, when started within 24 hours, and taken for a time period of less than 2 weeks.”

Scientists at the University of Helsinki found that zinc acetate lozenges of about 80 mg/day may be useful for the common cold.

Lozenges are the best version of zinc to use because in common colds the virus grows in the throat which is why lozenges are preferred to pills or sprays. An effective dose needs to be between 13 and 23 milligrams. The safe upper limit for a daily dosage of zinc is 40 milligrams.


This power house of a vitamin is known to boost the immune system and reduce the risk of asthma flare-ups during a cold.

51993629 - vitamin d conceptKnown as the “sunshine vitamin”, people who live in northern latitudes can become deficient in Vitamin D during the winter months when they are not exposed to enough sunlight. Unfortunately, only a few foods contain Vitamin D, such as oily fish, egg yolks, red meat and liver. People who become deficient in Vitamin D increase their risk of catching a cold or the flu by at least a third.

“A recent analysis of data from 16 clinical trials, involving over 7,400 people, looked at the effects of taking vitamin D versus a placebo on the risk of respiratory tract infections (common cold, flu or pneumonia),” Dr. Brewer reports. “Overall, vitamin D supplements significantly reduced the risk of experiencing at least one respiratory infection by 35 per cent during the follow-up periods, which ranged from 3 weeks to 3 years.”

She also cites a review by the Cochrane Collaboration – “a gold standard panel of international scientists” – which found that taking vitamin D slashed the risk of asthma patients needing emergency room care of hospitalization by 61 percent.

However, there is some controversy surrounding these findings. Studies outlined in this WebMD article show mixed results, and a lot of questions about testing protocols, which means there is at least some good evidence that keeping up with the daily recommended dose of Vitamin D, especially during cold and flu season, is a good idea.


When all else fails, take Mom’s advice and down a nice big bowl of chicken soup.

44037014 - hot and alible chicken soupBelieve it or not, research published in the American Journal of Therapeutics revealed a compound found in the soup, called carnosine, actually helps the body's immune system fight the early stages of flu.

Dr Stephen Rennard, of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, tested this “old wives tale” by feeding soup to volunteers, then studying their blood samples. He found that the soup inhibited the movement of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cells which defend against infection. He theorized that by halting infection-fighting cells in the body, the soup helps reduce cold symptoms.

Unfortunately, what he was unable to do was isolate exactly what ingredient in the soup made it so effective against colds. The soup he fed his volunteers was a generations-old family recipe that contained chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery stems, parsley, salt and pepper.

However, other research has found that drinking the hot soup is better at clearing congestion in the nose than drinking hot or cold water. The broth also helps to thin mucus in the lungs, especially if it’s spicy.

This is the holiday season - which is also the season for hugs - which means those pesky little germs are bound to be everywhere. Keep this list handy and at the first sign of a sniffle, try one of these natural and inexpensive remedies.