Cold season is among us and your colleagues are sniffling and sneezing. All you can think about is your long to-do list and “I can’t afford to get sick right now”. Not to worry, Joanna Stochla, a registered dietitian, is here with some advice and to debunk some common myths along the way.

Many consumers are reaching for natural remedies to boost their immune systems and fight the common cold, because they believe they are safer than the conventional remedies. However, I want to first set things straight to say “natural” does not necessarily mean safer. Natural remedies can also have side effects, negative interactions with medications and other supplements, and they still have a risk for overdose. So if you have any concerns on whether a product is right for you, speak with your healthcare provider.

A few of the common products that consumers are reaching for to prevent the common cold includes vitamin C, zinc, selenium, garlic, and Echinacea. However, if you visit a health food store you will see that there are hundreds of products that claim to boost the immune system. As much as I wish I could tell you that there is a magic pill that could prevent us all from getting sick, there is no strong research that says such a product exists. Although we do need vitamin C, zinc, selenium, and other important nutrients for proper immune function, we shouldn’t be relying on supplements. We should be eating a healthy diet that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, which contain these important nutrients. Check out Canada’s Food Guide if you’re not sure how many servings of each food group you should be having. Another extremely important tip to prevent the spread of the common cold is to wash your hands often! It may be common sense, yet many take this important step for granted.

Now what do you do if you catch the bug lingering in your office?

Although there is no evidence that vitamin C can prevent the common cold, there is some research that suggests that regularly taking 200 mg or more of vitamin C may shorten the duration of a cold. However, taking large doses may cause digestive disturbances, so stay below 2000 mg of vitamin C from supplements and food to avoid adverse effects. The good news is vitamin C can be found in many fruits and vegetables, such as peppers, broccoli, kiwi, oranges, and strawberries. For example, half a cup of peppers will provide about 100 mg of vitamin C and one kiwi or orange will provide about 70 mg.

One very trendy supplement that many consumers are reaching for to treat their cold symptoms is oregano oil. Unfortunately, there is no strong evidence that demonstrates that oregano oil is beneficial to treating symptoms related to the common cold.  Echinacea is another common supplement taken to treat the common cold, but will it really help? There is some weak evidence that suggests Echinacea may help with treating the cold, but overall the results show that Echinacea will likely not make a difference. There is however some promising evidence that may suggest zinc lozenges can be beneficial with reducing the duration of cold symptoms. Although, common adverse events included nausea and bad taste, and most trials had participants taking zinc lozenges every two hours while awake, which can seem unappealing to most individuals; especially if they are feeling unwell. There is also no conclusive evidence to recommend a certain dose of zinc, although the tolerable upper limit for zinc is 40 mg/day for adults, so try not to exceed this amount to avoid adverse events.

Clearly, there is no good evidence that concludes that natural remedies will prevent or treat your cold. No matter how many of your friends or colleagues say they “swear” by a natural remedy, the fact is the results vary from person to person and most of the time it’s good ol’ placebo effect. So before you decide to spend your money on a supplement, just keep in mind that the evidence is weak and it may not always give you the results that you are hoping for.