Has the dreaded cold and flu season reared its ugly head again this year? While typically restricted to colder (or wetter) parts of the year, it almost seems like you can pick up a cold or flu anytime these days.
And that’s not completely untrue. The fact of the matter is that our immune system is constantly being battered by a host of microbial pathogens, in addition to fighting the internal battle with stress. Yes- stress is a major contributor to you falling ill often.
For the aspiring or dedicated athlete, coming down with symptoms indicative of an illness are horrendous times. Sure, dealing with the sniffling, sneezing, coughing and a general sense of malaise is tough, but you will probably need to miss a few gym sessions in the process!!
If you are silently screaming in your mind, good news is at hand. By fortifying your immune system with well-times nutritional support, you reduce the likelihood of experiencing dreaded downtime. It is a safe bet waging your immune system on the following:
The quintessential cold and flu vitamin, the importance of Vit C cannot be overstated when cold and flu season rolls around. To be quite clear, vitamin C is not a wonder drug. It will not prevent you from becoming sick.
BUT, it does definitely contribute to the rapid recovery from illness, shortening the duration or severity of the cold or flu. This is why it has remained a mainstay in managing illness for decades[i].
Vitamin C has been found to help assist with recovery based on the fact that during illness, stores of this vitamin are rapidly depleted, which coupled with the fact that vitamin C is rapidly removed from the body by virtue of it being water-soluble, and you can see the importance of 28restoring what the body uses.
The exact amount necessary varies widely from one authoritative source to another, with values on the lower side at 1-2 g daily being quoted, and on the other end of the spectrum being 18 g daily. The good news, however, is the fact that symptoms of overdosage are extremely rare, so you don’t have much to fear by consuming a fairly large dose.
Consuming vitamin C daily is even more important in bodybuilders and strength athletes who subject their muscles to immense stressors and rapidly use this vitamin for buffering oxidation.
A trace mineral that is extremely important to our overall health, being involved in a number of biochemical reactions. But apart from its importance is male sexual wellbeing and normal growth, we are particularly interested in what it brings to the table for your immune system.
Similar to vitamin C, while it is necessary to be consumed daily, it does not do an exceptional job of preventing infections. It, however, helps accelerate recovery and reduce symptoms experienced during a transient illness.
Not only this, but it is heavily concentrated in helper T cells of the immune system, and can help limit the extent of inflammation that occurs following an infection as the immune cells unleash their onslaught against invaders. Think of it as helping to minimize “friendly fire”.
Men do best with 25 mg of zinc daily, which is well above the RDI (we are talking about athletes, after all) since zinc is lost in sweat and ejaculate fluid. Try to avoid going over 50 mg daily, since at this level gastric side effects become quite pronounced without much additional benefit.
The exception to this rule would probably be during active illness, when the use of zinc infused lozenges could help reduce duration of illness by up to 48%, according to findings published in The Journal of family practice in 2011[ii].
White Willow Bark
How often do you turn to good old aspirin stashed in your medicine cabinet? Not too often we hope, as frequent use can have negative effects on your health, but how about opting for a safer alternative when grappling with flu symptoms?
Known as nature’s aspirin, white willow extract (represented as Salix Alba on many product labels) was the go-to source of salicin; one of the primary active constituents in aspirin, long before commercial preparation were available.
In moderation, it is extremely safe and effective, helping to reduce fever and generalized pain[iii] associated with flu. It is also believed to exert a greater margin of safety when compared to aspirin, but that is potentially because a lower dose is usually consumed.
Nevertheless, any supplement product that contains this ingredient will offer great support when dealing with a cold or flu.
One of the most abundant naturally occurring flavonoid antioxidants, quercetin is very useful in modulating immune function and the usual immune response. What this means is that in addition to reducing the impact of oxidative damage, it also demonstrates anti-histamine like properties which can be useful in dealing with allergies or airway inflammation.
It is, however, not absorbed very well on its own, making it necessary to combine with other compounds such as vitamin C to boost its utility. A Dosage of 500 to 1000 mg daily is generally accepted as safe.
Echinacea is probably the closest thing to a vaccine pill that exists, as it possesses profound benefits for your immune system. A study published in the Journal of medicinal food in 2008 found that multiple species of the Echinacea plant enhanced immune function; both natural and that acquired via adaptation[iv], improving your resistance to common bacterial and viral pathogens.
Echinacea is also one of the few supplements that you can take which actually reduces the likelihood of you developing a cold or flu in the first place; by a whopping 50% as a matter of fact. This and the improved recovery from illness makes for the perfect one-two punch.
The exact amount of Echinacea you need to consume daily isn’t set in stone, but based on anecdotal reports the vicinity of 500 mg taken three times daily appears to confer good immune support.
There are other supplements that you can use to bolster your immune system as well, including those such as turmeric extract, or Manuka honey and propolis; both exceptional products of nature’s busiest worker, the bee.
A great starting point is to ensure that you are getting enough zinc and vitamin C, as their utility cannot be overstated when it comes to immune function, and overall importance. Top it up with Echinacea and you have a potent combination that can help see cold and flu season whizz right on by without you missing a beat!
[i] Carr, A.C.; Maggini, S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients 2017, 9, 1211.
[ii] Rao G, Rowland K. PURLs: Zinc for the common cold--not if, but when. J Fam Pract. 2011;60(11):669–671.
[iii] Wood JN. From plant extract to molecular panacea: a commentary on Stone (1763) 'An account of the success of the bark of the willow in the cure of the agues'. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2015;370(1666):20140317. doi:10.1098/rstb.2014.0317
[iv] Zili Zhai, Yi Liu, Lankun Wu, David S. Senchina, Eve S. Wurtele, Patricia A. Murphy, Marian L. Kohut, and Joan E. Cunnick Enhancement of Innate and Adaptive Immune Functions by Multiple Echinacea Species.Journal of Medicinal Food.Sep 2007.ahead of printhttp://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2006.257