What can the average person do for their immunity?

By Nameer van Oosterom BPharm (Hons)

With the current global COVID-19 pandemic, and flu season fast approaching, having a strong immune system has never been more important. There are many things we can do to help support our immune system, and this article will highlight three supplements that may help you! Please note that this advice is general in nature and may depend on your own personal medical background. For more information, please come in store to have a chat to one of our lovely pharmacists.

Vitamin C 

(Ascorbic Acid)

Vitamin C is a vitamin which is essential for human survival but cannot be naturally produces in humans.1 Therefore, ascorbic acid must be obtained from our diet to ensure adequate levels. Many fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C; especially citrus fruits like oranges.1 However, vitamin C supplements are also available commercially.

What is the effectiveness of Vitamin C?

The use of vitamin C for treating viral infections has been controversial, however most clinical trials have found high doses of decrease the duration of cold symptoms by a few days.2-7 This includes a meta-analysis review, which is considered one of the more rigorous reviews of literature. In comparison, there is lacking evidence to support the use of vitamin C is preventing or treating COVID-19. However, due to the safety of vitamin C at normal doses, there are potential benefits of vitamin C outweigh the limited risks.

Zinc

Zinc is a mineral, and like vitamin C, is an essential nutrient to main normal human physiological processes.10 The human body is unable to store excess amounts of zinc, so we require a constant adequate supply from our diet. Zinc can be found in red meat, poultry, and fish, but also from tofu, legumes, and nuts for those of you who are vegetarian or vegan.10

What is the effectiveness of Zinc?

Zinc has been found to be effective in the treatment of colds, by significantly reducing the duration of symptoms.11-19 However, there is more conflicting evidence for the preventative use of zinc.11, 20, 21 Choosing the right zinc supplement is important, as different formulation have difference evidence, but also, some products contain other ingredients that can reduce the effectiveness of zinc. This is because some ingredients can bind to zinc in a process called chelating, which prevents zinc from being ionised into its active form.22-24 Similar to vitamin C, there is lacking evidence supporting the use of Zinc to treat or prevent COVID-19, however, the risks associated with zinc at normal doses is limited.

Andrographis

Andrographis is a plant which has been cultivated globally but is native to Asian countries including India and Sri Lanka. it has been purported that they can reduce pain (analgesic effect), fever (antipyretic effect), inflammation, and have antiseptic properties.

What is the effectiveness of Andrographis?

Taking Andrographis as an individual supplement, or in combination with others, improves the symptoms of a cold.25-32 It appears treatment should be started within 72hours of symptoms onset, and symptoms start to improve as quickly as 2 days after starting.25-27, 29 Interestingly, there is emerging evidence that Andrographis can help prevent the common cold. A study that used regularly andrographis had a 50% reduction in the risk of developing a cold after 2 months of use.33 Importantly, the same situation applies for andrographis as it does for vitamin C and zinc – there is lacking evidence support andrographis is in treatment or prevention of COVID-19.

References:

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  2. Martin NG, Carr AB, Oakeshott JG, Clark P. Co-twin control studies: vitamin C and the common cold. Prog Clin Biol Res 1982;103:365-73.
  3. Pitt HA, Costrini AM. Vitamin C prophylaxis in marine recruits. JAMA 1979;241:908-11 
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