Photo illustration by Deija Zavala

Get Ahead of the Humboldt Hack

Vitamin D and zinc often help the immune system battle the common cold and the flu.

Vitamin D and zinc can help the immune system battle the common cold and the flu

In addition to getting your annual flu shot, there are other things to do to protect yourself from the flu virus.

The flu spreads most commonly through the air, which is why sneezing and coughing, in a hygienic way, help to prevent the sickness from spreading. A study published in the journal of Clinical Microbiology and Infection has concluded that the flu virus can stay on unwashed human hands for up to 30 minutes.

“It was possible to recover infectious influenza A (H3N2) and A (H1N1) 2009 viruses for a period of time extending up to 30 min,” Yves Thomas, the lead researcher, wrote.

The likelihood of contracting the flu virus rises significantly with hand-to-face contact, allowing the virus access to mucous membranes.

As always, eating fruits and vegetables and moderate exercise will give you the best odds to beat sickness, but once you start feeling the symptoms, what can you do?

Vitamin C, in conjunction with other vitamins and minerals such as zinc and vitamin D, can be used to strengthen the immune system for a small period of time, but over long stretches proved no more effective than placebo.

Harri Hemilä, Ph.D. tested 1-2 grams/day of Vitamin C and found that the likelihood of catching a cold dropped.

“The duration of colds was reduced by 8% (3% to 12%),” Hemilä wrote. “The severity of colds was also reduced by regular vitamin C administration.”

Athletes can especially benefit from regular vitamin C supplementation. The vitamin C acts as an antioxidant for athletes as it works to potentially reverse oxidative damage that occurs with exercising. The article states that vitamin C may be useful for those exposed to brief periods of severe physical exercise.

Mariangelea Rondanelli and other researchers investigated the effects three compounds have on colds. Vitamin C, zinc and vitamin D seem to be the holy trinity of risk reduction for cold and flu. Once symptoms occur, these have been shown to lessen the severity and length of sickness.

“Considering zinc, the supplementation may shorten the duration of colds by approximately 33%,” Rondanelli wrote. “Common cold patients may be instructed to try zinc within 24 hours of onset of symptoms. As for vitamin D, the supplementation protected against the common cold overall, considering baseline levels and age.”

Of course, not everyone has the same reaction to dosages, and it’s possible these might not help everyone fight sickness. A change in diet can increase zinc levels easily. Eating an extra serving of nuts or seeds at breakfast is more inviting and customizable compared to buying zinc lozenges, packets or pills.

Vitamin D can be obtained through the sun, but here in Arcata that option leaves just as the worst of the flu season hits. A small supplement of vitamin D may help with more than just immune issues, and many Americans are vitamin D deficient without even realizing it.

Beyond that, one would have to eat a lot of oranges to match the one to two grams of daily vitamin C that was tested in the study, but an increased intake of any amount wouldn’t be wasted. EmergenC, Airborne and other supplements will deliver a dense dose of the vitamin. Hemilä said patients should try out an increase in vitamin C.

“Nevertheless, given the consistent effect of vitamin C on the duration and severity of colds in the regular supplementation studies, and the low cost and safety,” Hemilä wrote. “It may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial for them.”

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