A guide to flu supplements and their efficacy this winter

As we head into winter 2020 more people than usual are interested in warding off the flu. This year has brought immense challenges in the form of the global pandemic and doctors warn that a combination of COVID 19 and normal winter flu could be deadly for some people.


If we have a bad flu season it will also contribute towards yet more strain on the NHS. Government advice is for older people (over 65) to get their free flu jab as quickly as possible this year. Similarly, anyone with underlying health conditions should endeavour to do so as well.


Younger people can buy a flu jab for less than £13, and it’s hoped that as many as possible will do so. But as well as flu vaccinations, there are other steps everyone can take to boost their immune system and lower the chances of contracting flu. These include eating well, exercising regularly and taking flu supplements.

What kind of flu supplement works best?

discussion and find out which might work for you.


  1. N-acetylcysteine (NAC)

This antioxidant and an amino acid is easily available as an over the counter nutritional supplement. It also has medical uses as it helps to protect the liver of people who have been poisoned with acetaminophen (paracetamol) and it helps to shift mucus in patients with chronic bronchitis.


NAC is used by the body to produce one of the most important antioxidants – glutathione. And an Italian study showed that it helped to prevent or decrease symptoms of H1N1 flu in around 65% of patients. A separate control group of patents were given a placebo.


Patients in the study either took 600mg of NAC twice a day for a six-month period, or a placebo. During the six months, more than a quarter of all the patients developed H1N1 antibodies, which shows that they had flu. From the placebo group with antibodies, 79% developed flu symptoms compared with just 25% of people in the NAC group.


Those people in the NAC group that did develop flu symptoms found they were much less severe than those in the placebo group. The trial also showed an improvement in immune system function in the NAC group, compared with the placebo group.


NAC also bumps up the effectiveness of a number of different drugs commonly prescribed to people with depression, high blood pressure and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).


  1. Vitamin D supplements

Most people are aware that Vitamin D is necessary for bone density and the body’s absorption of calcium. But Vitamin D also stimulates the immune system to produce factors called cathelicidns and defensins. These can kill viruses in the body.


Sunlight gives us most of the Vitamin D we need, but in the winter months many people suffer from deficiencies. In fact, researchers have suggested that the reason there is a sharp rise in colds and flu in the winter is directly linked to the lack of Vitamin D in darker months.


A study on a group of women (postmenopausal) showed that Vitamin D supplements helped to keep cold and flu symptoms at bay. It used a minimum dose of 800 international units per day per person. The best results were on a dose of at least 2000 UIs/day. It’s easy to buy doses up to 3000 UIs/day at any chemist, and it’s worth adding to your winter regime.


  1. American Ginseng ( Panax cinquefolium)

This herb stimulates the immune system and research shows that an extract from American ginseng can decrease the chances of developing respiratory symptoms and colds in the winter.

A controlled study among older adults showed that 200mg of ginseng taken twice a day for 12 weeks decreased cases of flu by 84%. The placebo group showed 7% of new flu infections, while the American ginseng group showed 1% of new flu infections.

  1. Zinc and Selenium taken together

Minerals selenium and zinc are scientifically proven to significantly affect the immune system. A French study of older people showed that those who took 20 mg of zinc along with 100mcg of selenium a day after their flu jab increased their antibodies. It was discovered that they became less likely to develop any kind of respiratory infection over a two-year period.


It was also found during this study that people taking a combination of vitamins (C and E) and beta-carotene were affected by a decrease in antibody response. So the work of the minerals basically offset the negative effect of the vitamins.


Studies invariably consist of older adults as they are the group most at risk of the symptoms of flu, colds and COVID-19. And while it’s not an exact science, there is plenty of evidence to show that everyone could benefit from the right kind of supplements to protect them from flu this year.