Vitamins for Flu Prevention

Annette McDermott
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Vitamins and Supplements

While there is no miracle formula for flu prevention, some supplements can boost your immune system which may lessen your risks of developing the virus. Combined with natural hygiene, a healthy diet and common sense, you can do a lot to prevent the flu and stay well during the flu season.

Prevent the Flu

There's no guarantee that taking vitamins will prevent the flu, but there is evidence a healthy immune system helps prevent the flu and may possibly lessen its duration and the severity of symptoms. When combined with eating a healthy diet focused on fruit, vegetables and whole grains and getting adequate rest, certain vitamins may help improve the body's ability to fight off viruses and enhance overall health.

Elderberry

According to WebMD's website, the tasty elderberry is believed to boost the immune system and help slow the spread of viruses. In addition, a small study showed a specific formulation of the tasty black elderberry, Sambucol, to shorten the flu's duration by 56 percent.

Elderberry supplements are available in capsule or extract form. Sambucol is available in tablet or extract form and is safe for children and adults.

American Ginseng

American Ginseng has been used for centuries as a natural immune booster and is often recommended by holistic healers to prevent colds and flu and help reduce symptoms. MedlinePlus states on its website that 200 mg of a specific American Ginseng product (Cold-FX) taken twice daily during flu season may help prevent symptoms in adults ages 18 - 65. The extract also seems to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms.

Cold-FX is available in capsule form at many drugstores and online retailers such as Amazon.

Vitamin D

There is compelling evidence of the importance of vitamin D to a healthy immune system. According to the Journal of Investigative Medicine, research shows bodies that are deficient in vitamin D may lack the ability to effectively fight off viruses. In addition, studies showed higher rates of the influenza and other viruses associated with low vitamin D levels. A randomized study on schoolchildren also determined that taking vitamin D(3) during the winter season may decrease the incidence of influenza A.

Sunlight is the best natural source of vitamin D but sunscreen use and other factors may prevent the body from absorbing adequate amounts. When supplements are needed, the Office of Dietary Supplements recommends 600 IU per day for people ages 1 -- 70. The recommended dose for People over 70 is 800 IU per day.

N-Acetyl Cysteine

A study performed by the University of Genoa in Italy concluded that N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) decreases the frequency, duration and severity of influenza-like episodes caused by the H1N1 influenza strain. It should be noted that the study showed NAC did not appear to prevent infection from occurring but it does seem to reduce the risk of developing symptoms after infection, especially in the elderly.

NAC is available in capsule form or by prescription. Because side effects and drug interactions may occur, it's important to only use the supplement under a doctor's guidance.

Vitamin C

Although there's conflicting and sometimes controversial research about whether or not vitamin C boosts the immune system, science greats such as Linus Pauling believed it strongly. Dr. Andrew Weil states on his website that vitamin C may support healthy immune function and fight free radicals in the body. A 1999 study showed mega doses of vitamin C significantly reduced flu symptoms when administered; however, going over the recommended daily dose can cause serious side effects so never take mega doses unless under your doctor's supervision.

You can get adequate amounts of vitamin C from many foods including citrus fruits, broccoli, apples, dark leafy greens, cauliflower, red peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. You can also find vitamin C supplements in chewable tablet, capsule or liquid forms in your pharmacy or online.

Zinc

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements indicates on its website that the body's immune system needs zinc to function properly. The mineral also helps the immune system combat viruses and bacteria. The website also suggests that too much zinc is not a good thing. People who take more than the recommended daily dose may experience digestive troubles, stomach pain, headaches, low copper levels, low HDL cholesterol levels and lower immunity.

Food high in zinc include:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Crab
  • Pork
  • Brown rice
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Dairy products

You can purchase zinc supplements in capsules, tablets or lozenge forms at your local pharmacy or online.

Probiotics

These beneficial probiotics are believed to boost digestive health. There's increasing evidence that a strong immune system is dependent on a healthy digestive system where beneficial bacteria thrive. While the final verdict is still out on the efficacy of using probiotics to prevent or treat illness, studies are encouraging. In fact, a 2012 Japanese study showed the heat-killed probiotic Lactobacillus may help prevent the flu virus by triggering immune responses, especially in the gut.

Probiotics found in fermented foods such as yogurt help, or you can usually find probiotic supplements at your local pharmacy or grocery store or purchase them online.

A Well-Balanced Approach to Flu Prevention

There's no way to guarantee you can avoid the flu but you can take a balanced approach to its prevention. When you add specific immune boosting vitamins and supplements to good hygiene habits (regular hand-washing and avoiding touching your eyes and nose) and a healthy diet, you're well on your way to reducing your flu risk. Be sure to consult your doctor to discuss your specific risk of developing the flu and before taking any vitamins or supplements to prevent or treat flu symptoms.

Vitamins for Flu Prevention