Supplements for the Cold: Which ones should you take?

Supplements for the Cold: Which ones should you take?

Taking supplements for the cold are essential when the whether’s changing and we need to increase our defenses…

Causes of the cold

A cold is a condition that primarily affects the respiratory system, although it also has a negative impact on other structures including the eyes, nose and muscles.

Its most notable symptoms are:

  • Runny noses.
  • Headaches.
  • Coughs.
  • Dyspnoea.
  • Sneezing.
  • Painful pharyngitis.
  • Gastroenteritis.
  • Aches and pains.
  • Fatigue and weakness.

Cold symptoms

A cold is a viral infection, caused primarily by the viruses of three families:

  • Rhinovirus.
  • Coronavirus.
  • Adenovirus.
The rhinovirus is the most common, constituting up to 50% of the infections in this case.

What vitamins are good for the cold?

Vitamins are essential nutrients, and a deficiency in them can negatively affect immune system function, which acts as a barrier against the pathogens that can cause a cold.

The vitamins most directly linked to immune system function and whose intake in sufficient quantities is essential are:
  • Vitamin C.
  • Vitamin D.
  • Vitamin A.
  • Vitamin B6.
  • Vitamin B12.
  • Vitamin B9.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient capable of influencing the activity of the immune system, both innate and adaptive.

It can restore conditions such as: toxic contamination, restoration of the immune system after strenuous physical exercise, improvement of the immune health of the elderly, etc.

Simply by maintaining an adequate vitamin C status in the body.

Effects of vitamin C

Effects of vitamin C on the body.

Most trials show that the use of vitamin C at doses of around 300-500mg daily is able to improve immune system function in people with some degree of immune compromise (such as athletes or the elderly).

Doses of up to 1 gram seem to have some influence, not so much on the risk of contracting an infection, but on the duration and severity of symptoms once contracted.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, which acts as the main reducing antioxidant, capable of dealing with reactive oxygen species, in the body.

Its function on the immune system and, therefore, protection against colds is mostly indirect.

This is to cope with the metabolic stress produced by periods of high exposure to stress (as may be the case for a pre-competition athlete, where mild illnesses are more prevalent).

Effects of vitamin E

Effects of Vitamin E on the regulation of cellular activity of the immune system.

Vitamin E is also able to act on certain cells of the immune system:

  • It decreases inflammation by regulating downward the expression of prostaglandins and the activity of cyclooxygenase.
  • It increases the proliferation of T cells and their precursors, improving the Th2/Th1 balance.
  • It increases the response of B cells, part of the humoral immune system.
  • It increases the activity of the Natural Killers, our first line of internal defense against pathogens.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is able to stimulate the proliferation of T-lymphoid cells, and inhibit the proliferation of B cells and their precursors.

The lymphocytic response to mitogens is highly dependent on retinoids; in addition, retinoic acid affects the balance of collaborating T cells (T-helper) in favor of Th2 versus Th1.

Indirectly, vitamin A contributes to the maintenance of mucous membranes, including the skin, lungs and intestines, which are the main access points for infections, acting as a barrier.


The antibody-mediated immune status of children with severe Vitamin A deficiencies is clearly impaired, and restoration of healthy levels through dietary supplementation restores normal immune system activity.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays an essential regulatory role in the functioning of the immune system.

The vitamin D receptor is expressed throughout the body, including in peripheral mononuclear cells, and in Th1 and Th2.

Adequate vitamin D (1,25OH2D) status suppresses antigen presentation by dentritic cells, immunoglobulin proliferation and production, the inflammatory response of Th1 cells, and slows the differentiation of B-cell precursors.

Effects of Vitamin C

Effects of Vitamin D on inflammation and the immune response to a pathogen.

Vitamin D is essential in the regulation of inflammatory activity mediated by pathogen infection, and in the body’s immune response to exposure to these antigens.

Other supplements for the cold


Zinc is an essential nutrient for the maintenance of many immune system functions.

Zinc deficiency is associated with lymphocytopenia (loss of lymphocyte density, part of the white blood series), atrophy of the lymphatic system, loss of thymulin activity, depletion of B-cells and T-cell precursors, etc.



Zinc in the form of lozenges has been associated in isolation with the prevention of respiratory diseases.

However, this has not been replicated, and at this stage it’s not possible to establish a clear cause-effect relationship between zinc consumption in this form and any degree of superiority over the positive effects of zinc status restoration in people with zinc deficiency.

A zinc deficiency makes people more susceptible to infections.


Echinacea is a plant in the Asteraceae family and is used as an immunostimulant in traditional phytotherapeutic medicine.

In vitro, Echinacea has been shown to modulate Nf-Kb and subsequent TNF-a expression, regulate IL-6 and IL-8 proliferation, tackle inflammation via LPS and CB2, potentially through the action of its alkylamides, although both the mechanism of action and the major responsible for the physiological effects of Echinacea extract have yet to be determined.

Effects of Echinacea

Biomolecular mechanisms of action of echinacea alkylamides.

In humans, it appears to reduce the prevalence of upper respiratory tract infection and disease, as well as the magnitude of symptoms.


However, these effects are not consistent and most research is based on pre-clinical trials.

Therefore, a cause-effect relationship cannot be established in humans between echinacea consumption and any positive effect on colds.


Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid, which serves as an energy substrate in the intestine and in immune cells, hence its link to the system.

Under normal conditions of sufficient nutrition, the body covers the de novo requirement for Glutamine and its addition to the diet is not necessary.

Glutamine in the body

Metabolic flow of glutamine in the body.

However, when the immune system is compromised, such as after strenuous physical exercise or during immunosenescence associated with ageing (i.e. in older people), glutamine becomes an essential nutrient and its supplementation is useful in preventing and coping with infections, such as those that cause colds.

Garlic Extract

Garlic extract contains allicin and other sulphoxides (sulphur compounds).

These, by unknown mechanisms, have been associated with a decrease in microbial proliferation in vitro and in animal models.

In humans, like echinaea, evidence is limited and based on mechanistic models of efficacy, so a cause-effect relationship cannot yet be established between consumption of garlic extract and the prevention of or decrease in cold symptoms.

Even so, garlic and its extract have numerous benefits that have quite solid evidence in humans, such as: the improvement of hemodynamic markers, improvement of the lipid profile, and, in general, cardiovascular health. You can find out more here.

Other tips for fighting the cold

The best tips for fighting the cold are classic, but effective:

  • Maintain good sleep habits (get enough rest and sufficient quality sleep).
  • Manage physical, psychological and emotional stress.
  • Maintain a good diet based on whole foods and avoiding nutritional deficiencies.
  • Do regular, moderate physical exercise.
  • Maintain proper hygiene, both of yourself and of your home/workplace.
  • Avoid close contact with people with colds to reduce your risk of infection.

Bibliographic references

  1. Carr, A. C., & Maggini, S. (2017). Vitamin C and immune function. Nutrients, 9(11).
  2. Castell, L. M. (2002). Can glutamine modify the apparent immunodepression observed after prolonged, exhaustive exercise? Nutrition, 18(5), 371–375.
  3. Cruzat, V., Rogero, M. M., Keane, K. N., Curi, R., & Newsholme, P. (2018). Glutamine: Metabolism and immune function, supplementation and clinical translation. Nutrients, 10(11).
  4. Hemilä, H. (2017). Zinc lozenges and the common cold: a meta-analysis comparing zinc acetate and zinc gluconate, and the role of zinc dosage. JRSM Open, 8(5), 205427041769429.
  5. Huang, Z., Liu, Y., Qi, G., Brand, D., & Zheng, S. (2018). Role of Vitamin A in the Immune System. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 7(9), 258.
  6. Mora, J. R., Iwata, M., & Von Andrian, U. H. (2008). Vitamin effects on the immune system: Vitamins A and D take centre stage. Nature Reviews Immunology, 8(9), 685–698.
  7. Hemilä, H., & Chalker, E. (2013). Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2013(1).
  8. Singh, M., & Das, R. R. (2013). Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2013(6), CD001364.
  9. Maywald, M., Wessels, I., & Rink, L. (2017). Zinc signals and immunity. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 18(10).
  10. Manayi, A., Vazirian, M., & Saeidnia, S. (2015). Echinacea purpurea: Pharmacology, phytochemistry and analysis methods. Pharmacognosy Reviews, 9(17), 63–72.
  11. Karsch-Völk, M., Barrett, B., Kiefer, D., Bauer, R., Ardjomand-Woelkart, K., & Linde, K. (2014). Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2014(2), CD000530.

Related Entries

  • We tell you about the Best Foods for the Immune System. Check out this link.
  • Do you know the Benefits of Probiotics? Head over to this post.
  • If you want to find out about everything Vitamin C can contribute to improve your health, click here.
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About Alfredo Valdés
Alfredo Valdés
He is a specialist in metabolic physiopathology training and in the biomolecular effects of food and physical exercise.
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