Catch Fewer Colds This Year

Find out what really works and what probably doesn’t.

Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N
4-minute read
Episode #15

Cold and flu season is upon us and I have a mission: I want to keep Nutrition Diva listeners healthier this year! There are a lot of urban legends out there about preventing colds. So I’m going to devote the next two shows to sorting fact from fiction and showing you the most effective things you can do to prevent colds.

Today’s quick and dirty tip is that vitamin C may help protect you but you need to take it an ongoing basis. On the other hand, the popular immune-booster Echinacea works best if you don’t take it every day.

Singers have a pathological fear of the common cold. For most people, a scratchy throat or hoarse voice is uncomfortable and inconvenient. For us, it can be a major career disaster. I’ve never known a singer who didn’t have an elaborate protocol for warding off colds. Turn a singer upside down in November and some combination of zinc lozenges, Echinacea capsules, vitamin C packets, and saline nasal spray is sure to fall out of her pockets.

But do any of these things actually reduce your risk of getting sick? Over the last ten years, a lot of researchers have been trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. If you’d like to review the research yourself, I’ll include some links in my show notes. Believe it or not, we still don’t have definitive answers on a lot of this stuff. But here’s what we do know:

Vitamin C: The Most Convincing Evidence

Of all the nutrients that are rumored to prevent colds, vitamin C is by far the most studied and also seems to have the most convincing evidence. Taking 500 mg or more of vitamin C a day throughout the cold season probably will reduce your chances of getting a cold this year. It seems to work extra well for people who engage in strenuous activity or spend time out in very cold temperatures. So if you’re planning to run the Iditarod this year, start loading up on C.

Of course, some people in these studies got colds even though they took vitamin C. But their colds tended to be shorter and their symptoms less severe than people who didn’t take any vitamin C. This was especially true in young kids. And, by the way, waiting until you get sick to start taking vitamin C isn’t nearly as effective as taking it all along.

Your body can’t store a lot of extra vitamin C, so your best bet is to get regular doses throughout the day. Here’s an idea: In addition to taking a vitamin C supplement once or twice a day, try to eat some vitamin C-rich foods at each meal and snack throughout the day.

Of course there are citrus fruits, but here are some foods that I bet you didn’t know were high in vitamin C: broccoli, potatoes, kale, and chili peppers. To find more foods high in vitamin C, you can use the nutrient search tool on nutritiondata.com.