Health experts tell us what they take to stop a cold from taking hold
With levels of colds and flu spiking at the moment, we all want to ward off the lurgy at all costs. While hand sanitising will help, adding immune-supporting supplements to your daily routine should be high on your priorities if you haven't got time to get ill right now (and let's face it, who has?)
In traditional Chinese medicine, one popular remedy for cold and respiratory viruses is the Cinnamon Twig Decoction, a delicious tea that practitioner Katie Brindle recommends and that editorial director Victoria Woodhall has been brewing up all winter. "It saw me through a bout of Covid and I swear it's been one of the things that it has helped me to stay otherwise virus-free of late," she says. "All the ingredients (ginger, lemon, cloves, dried mandarin peel, cinnamon sticks, licorice root) to which you just add boiling water - are available on Amazon or from supermarkets."
But what do the experts take themselves? We asked a doctor, a pharmacist, and a nutritionist to recommend the supplements they use to stay well when everyone around them has the sniffles as well and, if they do get it, what they take to reduce the length and severity of a cold. We also recommend the things that really work for us.
What to take to when people around you have a cold:
The herbal remedy: Holland And Barrett Oregano Oil, £14.99
Oregano oil supports the gut and can be used to kill off parasites too. “I first tried it when it was recommended by a nutritional therapist for a gut issue, but once I’d done the course she said to keep the pot if you’re ever coming down with a virus, it’s really effective”, says Victoria Woodhall. “Then Katie Brindle sent me these capsules when I had Covid, and they became part of my arsenal along with the cinnamon twig tea.”
The gut support: Leapfrog Immune, £39.99
Take one of these lactoferrin chewable tablets when you start falling ill and it can help to lessen your symptoms, so the makers claim. There’s robust science behind the benefits of lactoferrin – immunologist Dr Jenna Machiocci - who says her ‘snake oil’ radar is highly tuned - says this is one case of hype being justified. “It’s hard to overstate how beneficial the lactoferrin protein is,” she told Leapfrog founder Stefanie Drax when the pair did an Instagram live. Babies acquire lactoferrin from their mother’s first milk and it supports the bacteria that a baby's gut is rich in “and that are important for the prevention of allergies,” says Dr Machiocci. This supplement is derived from cow’s milk and has a growing number of fans including broadcaster 'Trinny and Susannah' Susannah Constantine, who said that when she and her daughter were "coming down with that wretched bloody cold" they both took this. "We both avoided getting sick. I got a little bit of a bit snotty, but I'm sure it's down to these. They really seem to work."
The anti-viral whizz: Inessa Immunity Complex, £24.99
This is a fabulous does-it-all immune complex with no fillers or bulking agents can serve as your vegan-friendly multi in cold and flu season. “It’s my go-to supplement in cold and flu season as it has everything you need.” says Victoria. It has effective doses of vitamin C (500mg) and D (1000iu) zinc, selenium, antioxidant plant compounds and medicinal mushrooms (chaga and reishi) as well as black elderberry which is full of powerful antioxidants and the secret sauce in Sambucol Black Elderberry Liquid, a liquid supplement prized for its proven antiviral properties (and another supplement to have in your cold and flu cabinet and can be given to children over the age of three).
The classic: A Vogel Echinaforce Cold and Flu Chewable, £11.75
A Vogel’s Echinaforce range has been a staple in many people’s cold and flu arsenal for decades and is still a leader bit in performance and price, if you’re looking for the best budget supplements that still pack a punch. The raw ingredient echinacea purpurea has been proven to prevent the symptoms of a common cold taking hold. The latest study published in 2022 shows that it may be effective in reducing the risk of infection of Covid-19 by reducing viral load on infection. “This may prove effective in lessening the severity of respiratory symptoms experienced and aid recovery,” says Dr Ross Walton, immunologist and founder of clinical research company A-IR. It’s one of our staples too. “I take the classic Echinacea Drops, £11.99 whenever I feel like I’m coming down with something,” says Victoria Woodhall, “and have these chewable tablets in my bag for an on-the-go dose.” Chew one to two up to three times a day; suitable from age 12.
The immune-supporter: Daily Immunity, £26 for 60 capsules
"This supplement contains nutrients, herbs, minerals, vitamins and even probiotics that work in varying ways to support the immune system keeping it at its peak in order to try and avoid an infection or cold," says Shabir Daya, pharmacist and co-founder of Victoria Health.
The supercharged vitamin C: Altrient Liposomal Vitamin C, £44.50 for 30 sachets
We've all heard it many times – vitamin C helps with a cold, and Dr Sophie Shotter implores us to up our dosage if everyone around us is going down with the sniffles. "The amount of vitamin C most of us take daily, if indeed we take it at all, is woefully inadequate," she says. "Up your intake to 2000mg up to six times per day. The main possible side effect is diarrhoea, but if this occurs just slightly decrease your dose the following day. Vitamin C is well known for its immune-supporting effects, but most of us don’t use it to its full potential." Each Altrient sachet contains 1000mg liposomal vitamin C, a highly bioavailable form that is easy on the stomach.
The probiotic: Kalla For Immune Health, £49 for a 30-day supply
This probiotic provides extensively researched strains of bacteria that can support the immune system, nutritionist Eve Kalinik tells us. "Plus it contains vitamin D , B12 and folic acid that are also helpful for supporting the immune system."
What to take when you feel a cold coming on:
The one you suck: Enhanced Zinc Lozenges by Life Extension, £10 for 30
Zinc lozenges are Shabir Daya's choice when he feels a cold coming on. The type of zinc used in these suckable tablets (zinc acetate) can be better utilised by the body than any other form, he says. "It has been the subject of many studies indicating its effectiveness at reducing the duration and symptoms of colds by several days," Shabir tells us.
Eve stands by zinc too. "Studies have shown that zinc at a dosage of 30-50mg per day taken within the first 24 hours of the first signs and symptoms of a cold for the first three to five days can have a significant effect on the duration and severity of the symptoms but it is important to take it within that first 24-hour window as after that it doesn’t seem to have much effect," she says.
The alternative to echinacea: Dr Wakde Kalmech Capsules Andrographis Panniculata, £16.58 for 60 capsules
"This is my absolute favourite and in many parts of the world is recommended ahead of echinacea for people with mild viral symptoms," says Dr Sophie Shotter. "It’s from an Indian shrub and is widely credited with being why the 1919 Indian flu epidemic didn’t spread more widely. You take it for a maximum of ten days at a time, because long term use of some of these supplements has been shown to suppress immunity rather than boost it."
The multi-pronged attack: 10 Day Get Well, Stay Well, £27 for 60 capsules
At the first sign of a cold, GTG's editorial director Victoria buys this 10-day course of supplements to head it off at the pass after being recommended it many years ago by Gill Sinclair, co-founder of Victoriahealth.com. It's designed to shorten the duration of bacterial and viral infections by supporting the immune system. It includes ingredients such as echinacea, astragalus and elderberry , known to support the immune system, as well as vitamin C and zinc.
This supplement does require a lot of pill-popping; you take two capsules, three times a day and you can expect to feel improved within the first few days.