There is an endless list of natural approaches which people use to prevent or treat colds and flu, but not all have clinical evidence behind them. The following supplements, however, have shown an ability to help prevent or shorten a cold in most studies, and, in the case of vitamin D, to even reduce the risk of flu and pneumonia when it is used to correct a vitamin deficiency. In each case, you need to take the right supplement, at the right time, and in the right way to have the best chance of success. As I have said on the Dr. Oz Show in the past, you don’t always get what you want with dietary supplements, but my top picks, based on ConsumerLab.com’s latest tests, are listed below.
To find out more about the supplements you’re taking, ConsumerLab is offering a 24-hour free pass to Dr. Oz viewers. Visit ConsumerLab.com/DoctorOz now and get immediate access to ConsumerLab.com’s unbiased testing of echinacea, zinc, and vitamin D supplements. (This list may change over time based on the latest results shared by ConsumerLab.com on Dr. Oz.) Remember to let your doctor know if you take or are planning to take any supplements. Some may interact with medications and nutrients.
Echinacea has a long history of use for treating respiratory infections. It’s not well understood how it works, but several studies show that echinacea can help you get over a cold faster and reduce symptoms.
My top picks are:
- Swanson Superior Herbs Elderberry Echinacea Goldenseal Immune Complex
- Gaia Herbs Echinacea Supreme Liquid
- A. Vogel Echinaforce
You need to be extra careful when choosing supplements with echinacea. Some herbal formulas list echinacea as part of a "blend" or "proprietary formula," but fail to specify the amount or type of echinacea. All three of the products above list the right amount of extract from the types of echinacea which have been well studied.
The Swanson and Gaia products have also been checked by ConsumerLab.com to be sure they're not contaminated with heavy metals, microbes and chlorinated pesticides. They also include ingredients, such as elderberry in the Swanson product, which may further help with colds. The A. Vogel product has not yet been tested by ConsumerLab.com, but a clinical study published after we completed our tests found it to reduce the number of cold episodes and their duration by 26% if taken throughout the cold season.
You should start using echinacea at the first sign of a cold, taking a total of about 900 mg of extract divided into two or three doses per day for one to two weeks. Echinacea should not be given to children under 12 and has not been well studied for use by pregnant or breastfeeding women. People taking immunosuppressants or with progressive systemic diseases like tuberculosis or multiple sclerosis or autoimmune conditions should consult a doctor before use.