Flu-fighting Supplements: What's Available? What Works?

Sure, echinacea's good name may have been tarnished in a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, but there is more than one way to naturally boost your immune system and stave off winter illness.

To give readers the skinny on the best flu fighting supplements available today, Health Magazine looked to Jim Duke, author of The Green Pharmacy and Mark Blumenthal, founder of the American Botanical Council.

The highlights are listed here:

Elderberry. New studies have placed great hope on this herb, which has suppressed influenza viruses in lab dishes. Available commercially in an extract called Sambucol, researchers still have no idea how it works, but believe that its antioxidants strengthen the immune system.

Andrographis. A new addition to the list of immune support supplements, this herb has been said to reduce cold symptoms more effectively than placebos. It is sold as Kan Jang, a formula that also includes eleuthero or Siberian ginseng.

Astragalus. A classic TCM immunity strengthener, this supplement contains polysaccharides that may encourage the cells that fight viruses. Though there has been no direct proof that astragalus fights colds, Blumenthal of the ABC gives it his vote. “And though we don't have good evidence for its effects on colds and flu, there's good reason to think it could help,” he said.

Probiotics. About 70 percent of antibody producing immune cells live in the lining of the digestive tract. Studies have shown that keeping these cells strong may help keeps colds away or at least reduce the symptoms of illness. Volunteers who took probiotics for at least three months decreased the length of their colds by almost two days and the severity of their symptoms by 20 percent.

Honeysuckle and forsythia, Pelargonium sidoides, Vitamin C and Zinc also made the cut.

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