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Best Over-the-Counter Vitamins and Supplements Proven to Shorten a Cold

Feeling like you're catching a cold? Try one of these OTC supplements.

Hedy Phillips CNET Contributor
Hedy Phillips is a freelance lifestyle writer based in New York. While she's not writing on topics like living on a budget and tips for city dwelling, she can usually be found at a concert or sightseeing in a new city. Over the past 10 years, her bylines have appeared in a number of publications, including POPSUGAR, Hunker, and more.
Hedy Phillips
Medically Reviewed
Reviewed by: Amelia Ti Medical Reviewer
Amelia Ti is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) based in NYC. She completed her Bachelor's in Nutrition & Dietetics at NYU and Master's in Applied Nutrition at Russell Sage College. Amelia's evidence-based knowledge and passion for the field allow her to translate nutrition research and innovation to the public.
Expertise Nutrition, dietetics, diabetes care, nutrition innovation. Credentials
  • Registered Dietitian
  • Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist
Education
  • New York University, BS in Nutrition & Dietetics
  • Russell Sage College, MS in Applied Nutrition
4 min read
Vitamin C capsules with an orange.
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Colds are one of the downsides of this time of year. While everyone is trying to stay in happy mode to celebrate the holidays, some of us inevitably get taken out by a nasty cold. Winter is prime time for illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control, millions of people get a common cold each year. In fact, the average adult has two to three of them each year, which means it's highly likely you'll get one during the winter months.

Because over-the-counter cold medicines can often feel like they don't work, you might be more soothed by a supplement instead. Everyday vitamins and herbal remedies have been proven to tamper the severity of a cold, shorten its length and even prevent it from happening in the first place. Pop a lozenge to soothe that sore throat, and keep reading to find out the best supplements you should reach for to ease your cold this season.

7 Over-the-Counter Vitamins Supplements Proven to Shorten a Cold

There are plenty of supplements you can find at your local drugstore that can aid in knocking out a cold. Many of these are also great to take all year round for overall better health. These are the best vitamins for a cold and best supplements for fighting a cold.

Elderberry 

People commonly reach for elderberry supplements when cold and flu season rolls around. Studies show that taking an elderberry supplement has been associated with shortening a flu. However, it should be noted that it won't prevent it or lessen the symptoms. The supplement has the potential to work much the same at the onset of a cold. Thanks to its antibacterial and antiviral properties, it may help get you back on your feet faster when a cold or flu knocks you down.

Zinc 

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, zinc supplements should be used with caution. Zinc should be taken orally, and it's been linked to shortening colds, especially if you take it right after cold symptoms start. However, many people take zinc intranasally, but this is not recommended. The NCCIH reports that this method of taking zinc has been proven to be dangerous and can lead to loss of smell. Zinc can also interact with antibiotics and penicillamine, so it is not recommended if you're on one of these medications. Some people have also experienced nausea when taking zinc.

Echinacea 

There is little research on taking echinacea for colds. However, some studies report that taking echinacea not only lessened the likelihood of catching a cold but also shortened the length of colds. Other studies showed similar results, implying that taking echinacea when you catch a cold can help get rid of the cold faster than if you took nothing. This supplement is largely safe to take, though there is a potential for an allergic reaction.

Vitamin C 

Vitamin C has been known to have a positive effect on shortening colds, though it is minimal, according to the NCCIH. In a study published by the organization, people who took vitamin C regularly didn't get colds any less frequently than those who didn't take it, but they did see less severe symptoms. It stands to reason that taking vitamin C on a regular basis can only have a positive effect on a cold, should you catch one. Taking too much vitamin C, though, has the potential to lead to gastrointestinal issues.

Supplement capsules spilling from a glass bottle.
Tanja Ivanova/Getty Images

Pelargonium

Pelargonium, a traditional medicine from Africa, has a rich history of being used to help fight illnesses. Studies have shown that taking pelargonium and its derivatives can reduce cold symptoms. One study showed that the earlier you took pelargonium after feeling cold symptoms, the more likely it was to fight those symptoms. Some over-the-counter cold medications have pelargonium in them, including Umcka Cold and Flu. Possible side effects include rash and pruritus (itching of the skin).

Andrographis

Andrographis is probably a supplement you haven't heard of before, but you can buy it in the supplement aisle at your drugstore. Some research on andrographis, an herb from South Asia, shows that when taken with ginseng, it can lighten the severity of a cold. When taken alone or with usual care, andrographis may shorten the duration of cough and for the throat. Possible side effects are also gastrointestinal, like the other diarrhea and vomiting. It's recommended to take the andrographis within 72 hours of feeling cold symptoms, and you could start seeing an improvement in symptoms in as little as two days. However, research suggests that it's more likely to take four to five days to see improvement. 

Vitamin D 

You might know about vitamin D's ability to support your bone health, but that's not all it can do. Some of vitamin D's other important powers are the ability to fight infection and boost your immune system. Studies show that taking a vitamin D supplement can stand up against the common cold and help it go away faster. These supplements can also fight off respiratory infections, which are another common illness people experience during cold and flu season.

Risks of OTC supplements for colds 

Homeopathic remedies are hit or miss for people, but when it comes to the common cold, there aren't a whole lot of proven remedies to turn to. Natural treatments, like over-the-counter vitamin and mineral supplements, are a largely safe bet in trying to treat a cold. However, some of these, like zinc, can be problematic if not taken carefully. 

The most important thing to remember when taking OTC supplements is that you should consult your doctor -- especially if you have an underlying condition. Your doctor can help you pick out a natural remedy for your cold that will be safe for you. They can help you understand any risks that may be involved with each supplement and examine how they could potentially interact with any other supplements or medications you're taking. This is especially important to do if you're pregnant, as your doctor will want to monitor any supplements you're taking.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.