1. Take high dose vitamin C
Taking 1 or 2 grams of vitamin C a day every day does shorten the duration, and lessen the symptoms of a cold or flu. But what really works is to dramatically increase your blood level of vitamin C, and keep it up until the cold or flu is gone. This means taking 2 grams immediately, then 1 gram an hour until the cold is gone (usually within 24 and often within 12 hours). You could take 2 grams every two hours, or even 3 grams every three hours (during the night, for example, this is more practical). The point is to keep drip feeding enough vitamin C into your bloodstream to keep the level consistently high. Vitamin C is in and out of the body in four to six hours.
The effectiveness of vitamin C is increased by taking it with other antioxidants and immune boosting nutrients. For example, one study tested the effects of high dose vitamin C, together with other antioxidants and it actually worked better than conventional drugs, including Tamiflu. It also has less side-effects.
The trick is to start taking vitamin C as soon as you get the first hints of the symptoms of a cold – maybe a sore throat or feeling blocked up. If you wait too long it is less effective. In a study of students those given 1 gram of vitamin C every hour for six hours during the first day of a cold, reported 85 per cent less cold symptoms than those taking decongestants and pain killers.
Vitamin C, in high doses, has been well proven to be non-toxic in both adults and children even if taken over many years. However, you do get loose bowels. The best dose is the level just below ‘bowel tolerance’. Everyone is different in this respect so it’s best to just try it and find your own way. There is no harm in having high doses for a few days. When all symptoms are gone don’t suddenly cut it out completely. Have, for example, 4 grams spread out during the next day, then reduce to 2 grams a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Some vitamin C tablets contain other immune-friendly nutrients for extra effect. You can use effervescent vitamin C but this becomes expensive at high dose and many are full of sugar. You can also buy pure ascorbic acid powder and mix with water and a little juice for taste, then drink throughout the day. Better is to get an alkaline balance mixture of ascorbates, including zinc ascorbate,
2. Increase your intake of zinc.
Zinc is an essential mineral that most of us are relatively deficient in. It is found in the ‘seeds’ of things – from eggs to nuts, seeds and beans. It is also high in meat and fish. The ideal intake is about 15mg a day. Most people achieve half of this only from diet. Thus a good daily multivitamin and mineral supplement should provide an additional 10mg to help ensure an optimal intake every day.
Zinc, in much higher doses of 50–100mg a day, has also proved to be significantly anti-viral. It is available in lozenges for coughs and colds, which help shorten a cold. Supplementing this amount of zinc has been shown to make the body’s T cells much more effective, hence boosting immunity. Some vitamin C supplements contain a small amount of zinc. For example, if one contains 1,000mg of vitamin C and 3mg of zinc, and you take 1 gram an hour, then you are going to be taking in close to 50mg over the 24 hours. This is effective.
3. Take black elderberry extract.
Viruses get into body cells by puncturing their walls with tiny spikes made of a substance called haemagglutinin. According to research by virologist Madeleine Mumcuoglu, working with Dr Jean Linderman, who discovered interferon, an extract of elderberry disarms these spikes by binding to them and preventing them from penetrating the cell membrane. ‘This was the first discovery,’ said Mumcuoglu. ‘Later I found evidence that elderberry also fights flu virus in other ways.’ In a double-blind controlled trialshe tested the effects of the elderberry extract Sambucol on people diagnosed with any one of a number of strains of flu virus. The results showed a significant improvement in symptoms – fever, cough, muscle pain – in 20 per cent of patients within 24 hours, and in a further 73 per cent of patients within 48 hours. After three days, 90 per cent had complete relief of their symptoms compared to another group on a placebo, who took at least six days to recover. In another double-blind controlled trial, elderberry extract cut recovery time in those with influenza by four days.
4. Take Echinacea
The root of the plant Echinacea purpurea is probably the most widely used immune-boosting herb. It possesses interferon like properties and is an effective anti-viral agent against flu and herpes. It contains special kinds of polysaccharides, such as inulin, which increase macrophage production. One studyon a group of healthy men found that, after five days of taking 30 drops of Echinacea extract three times a day, their white blood cells had doubled their ‘phagocytic’ power, allowing them to better destroy viruses. Echinacea is best taken either as capsules of the powdered herb (2000mg a day), or as drops of a concentrated extract (usually 20 drops three times a day).
5. Up your vitamin D level
Keep your vitamin D level up, especially during the winter. Vitamin D is a very important immune boosting vitamin. You get some from foods such as oily fish and eggs, but it is primarily made in the skin in the presence of sunlight. If you don’t get outdoors and expose your skin to direct sunlight you won’t make any. During the winter most people’s vitamin D levels drop quite substantially leaving their immune systems vulnerable. In one study of 19,000 people those with the lowest average levels of vitamin D were about 40 per cent more likely to have had a recent respiratory infection, compared to those with higher vitamin D levels.
The minimum level we need for optimal health is around 30mcg a day, although some say this is to low. If you expose yourself to moderate sunlight for half an hour a day, and eat eggs and especially oily fish such as mackerel, you might achieve 15mcg. Hence there is a good case to supplement 15mcg, especially if you live in the UK or equivalent. The RDA, which is desperately out of date, is a mere 5mcg.
There are two forms of vitamin D - D2 is derived from plants and can substitute for D3 in the human body. D3 is the natural form found in foods such as fish and eggs, and made by the skin when exposed to sunlight. It is the more effective form. In the winter, if you live in Northern Europe, for example, it is worth boosting your vitamin D intake with one or two vitamin D drops a day. These should provide 25mcg per drop. Taking 50mcg a day for a month should build up your vitamin D stores for the winter. Then cut back to one drop, 25mcg. A good multivitamin can provide 15mcg. You will need more if you rarely get outdoors with skin exposed, have dark skin, live far north (or south) and during the winter months when the angle of the sun means less intensity.
When your immune system is fighting off an infection it takes energy, you want to rest and avoid stress. Also, the immune system works better when you are hotter – that is why the body produces a fever to fight off an infection. So, keep warm and have warm baths. Do eat well but don’t eat too much. Conserve your energy for fighting the infection.
Act fast. Viruses survive by breaking into your body’s cells and reprogramming those cells to make more viruses. You want to stop that happening as fast as possible so what you do in the first 24 hours makes all the difference. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
There’s some evidence that those who supplement probiotics on a regular basis recover from colds faster.
Ginger (use in juice and teas)
Carrots and carrot juice
Water (drink lots)
Montmorency cherry juice (Cherry Active)
Fish/beans – you need protein
Raw nuts and seeds
Dairy products (often mucus forming)
Sugar and refined foods
Too many carbs e.g. lots of bread and cereals
1 gram vitamin C (ideally pick one with zinc and berry extracts – even better with black elderberry) every hour
10 drops of Echinacea every two hours
A teaspoon, or equivalent of black elderberry extract every two hours
A good high potency multivitamin and mineral with 15 mcg of vitamin D
A 25mcg drop of vitamin D a day during the winter (for immune protection rather than immediate effect)
Cautions: Vitamin C, in high doses, can cause loose bowels or even diarrhoea. This is not dangerous as such as long as you keep hydrated. However, it is ideal to consume less than the amount that gives you extremely loose bowels. This also means you will need to decrease your daily dose down to 1 to 2 grams a day once you are better.
Dig deeper: To find out more on this subject read How to Boost Your Immune System by Patrick Holford & Jennifer Meek which includes key referenced studies.
- Hemilä H, Nutrients, 2017
- Deryabin, P. et al., BioFactors, 2008
- Gorton HC, Jarvis K., J Manipulative Physiol Ther., 1999
- Hemilä H, JRSM Open., 2017
- Zakay-Rones, Z. et al., J.Altern. Complement Med., 1995
- Zakay-Rones, Z. et al., J. Int. Med. Res., 2004
- Erhard, M. et al., Phytother. Res., 1994
- Ginde, A. et al., Arch. Intern. Med., 2009