If you haven’t recently made a trip to the doctor, scoured the pharmacy aisles or conjured up some home remedy for relief for the cold or flu, count yourself lucky.
We are well into the cold and flu season. Not only is being sick unpleasant, it also costs us money, since the common cold is one of the main reasons for visiting the doctor and for missing work or school. Are the various nutritional supplements safe and worth their cost? Let’s take a look at three common products.
Echinacea. Health experts have not yet determined if Echinacea helps prevent or shorten colds. Some limited evidence shows that it may be useful for treating colds in adults, if taken in the early stages of a cold. Many other research studies have shown no benefit to adults or children.
Zinc. Warning: Zinc products taken through the nose (such as sprays or gels) may result in permanent damage to your sense of smell. Lozenges are safer. Zinc supplements have shown potential for treating colds. Research has shown taking 70 or more mg zinc per day reduces the duration of colds. The best doses and treatment strategies are not yet known. Supplementing with too much zinc can have a negative impact on the immune system. There may not be any benefit for people who already have healthy zinc levels. Food sources of zinc include: oysters, beef, crab, pork, chicken, poultry giblets, lobster, wheat germ, baked beans and other cooked dry beans, and dairy foods.
Vitamin C. Vitamin C supplements have shown some promise for treating colds in adults, but researchers have not studied children. Side effects have been reported with high doses of vitamin C supplements. The best doses and treatment strategies are not known. You could safely eat foods naturally rich in vitamin C often. These include: oranges, broccoli, grapefruit, sweet bell peppers, strawberries, Brussels sprouts and papayas.
Bottom line? There’s no good research evidence that any nutritional supplement prevents colds (or flu), or even helps reduce how long and how bad it is if you or your child gets one. If you choose to take a nutritional supplement anyway, keep in mind that they may trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements or medications. Always take supplements under the supervision of your doctor. Strive to eat a balanced and healthful diet, drink plenty of liquids and practice good hand-washing.
(Resource: Erin Henry and Mary Meck Higgins, “Dining on a Dime,” December 2010)
Lori Wuellner is a Wyandotte County Extension agent, Family and Consumer Sciences, K-State Research and Extension, 1216 N. 79th St., Kansas City, Kan. Telephone 913-299-9300, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Winter Soup Supper
1 tablespoon canola cooking oil
¼ cup chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ cups reduced-sodium chicken stock or broth
½ cup each chopped raw sweet potato and white potato
1 cup chopped cooked turkey or chicken, without skin
½ cup chopped broccoli florets
1 teaspoon dried parsley leaves
½ teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper or cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1. In a saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until onion is soft, about 3 minutes.
2. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover. Bring soup to a boil.
3. Reduce heat. Stirring occasionally, boil soup gently until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Serve hot.
4. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours.
Makes 2 servings, 1 ¼ cups each.
Nutrition Facts per serving: 260 calories, 10 g total fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 18 g carbohydrates, 25 g protein, 60 mg cholesterol, 420 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber. Daily values: 100% vitamin A, 35% vitamin C, 4% calcium, 10% iron