Winning the cold war

Vitamin C
Despite the anti-vitamin propaganda, vitamin C actually works – depending on the dose. That’s the conclusion of the most recent and most thorough review published this year by Professor Harri Hemila from the University of Helsinki, including a clear exposé of the flaws that were used to falsely discredit vitamin C. As far back as the 1970s, five placebo controlled studies giving 2g or more of vitamin C showed that ‘there was very strong evidence that colds were shorter or less severe in the vitamin C groups’. However, later reviews included studies using as little as 25mg, and managed to jiggle the maths to produce no statistically significant effect overall.

When you’re under viral attack the level of vitamin C, which is highly concentrated in leucocytes (white blood cells), falls rapidly. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and, under viral attack, the leucocytes start to release oxidants to help destroy the virus. But they also use up vitamin C. During a cold you need about 6g a day to stop this decline in leucocyte vitamin C levels.

While, overall, studies above 2g a day do work, the best results to date have been seen in two controlled trials giving 6-8g a day on the first day of a cold. The biggest and best study reported that those taking vitamin C cut the duration by 30%.

In a more recent study of students, those given 1g of vitamin C every hour for six hours during the first day of a cold reported 85% less cold symptoms than those taking decongestants.

But is 6-8g a day enough? All studies to date have shown the higher the dose the greater the effect. So why not go higher? Case reports have proposed that doses should be over 15g a day for the best effect. This is certainly my experience. I take 2g or 3g immediately on the first signs of a cold and 1g an hour, or 2g every two hours, thereafter. That means I’m going to take it at least 10-25g in the first 24 hours of a cold. I have been doing this for 35 years and can only recall three bouts of flu which have lasted more than 48 hours. Most people report colds lingering for a week or more.

Meanwhile, on a daily basis, it’s a good idea to take at least 1g of vitamin C. A well-designed study gave healthy men either 1g of vitamin C or placebo over eight weeks. For the whole group there were seven reported colds in those taking vitamin C and 11 in those on placebo. Also, those taking vitamin C recovered more than twice as fast.

Increase your intake of zinc
Zinc is an essential mineral that most of us are relatively deficient in. It is found in the ‘seeds’ of things – from eggs and nuts to seeds and beans, as well as meat and fish. The ideal intake is about 15mg a day. Most people achieve half of this from diet. Thus a good daily multivitamin should provide an additional 10mg to help ensure an optimal intake.

Zinc lozenges, in much higher doses of 50-100mg a day, have also proved to be significantly anti-viral. Supplementing this amount of zinc has been shown to make the body’s T cells much more effective, hence boosting immunity.

Take black elderberry extract
Viruses get into body cells by puncturing their walls with tiny spikes made of haemagglutinin, a process that black elderberry inhibits. In a double-blind controlled trial, elderberry extract given to people with flu showed a rapid and significant improvement in symptoms – fever, cough, muscle pain – in 20% of patients within 24 hours, and in a further 73% of patients within 48 hours. After three days, 90% had complete relief of their symptoms compared to another group on a placebo, who took at least six days to recover. In another double-blind controlled trial, elderberry extract cut recovery time in those with flu by four days.

Take Echinacea
This root of the plant Echinacea purpurea is probably the most widely used immune-boosting herb. One study on a group of healthy men found that after five days of taking 30 drops of Echinacea extract three times a day, their white blood cells had doubled their ‘phagocytic’ power, allowing them to better destroy viruses. Echinacea is best taken either as capsules of the powdered herb (2000mg a day), or as drops of a concentrated extract (usually 20 drops three times a day).

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