Supplements to help reduce the symptoms of flu


Milk thistle is one of the nutritional supplements that can help increase your glutathione levels, which in turn helps boost antioxidant activity in your body. — Wikimedia Commons

October to March and May to September are the months in which Malaysia will see a spike in flu cases brought about by the northeast and southwest monsoon winds respectively.

However, due to our ever-present hot and humid weather, Malaysians should take precautions to prevent the flu all year round.

The medications doctors usually prescribe are supportive in nature and given to ease the symptoms of a flu infection, e.g. congestion, headache, fever, sore throat and joint pains.

None of these treatments are curative as they do not kill the flu virus.

The only curative strategy to date is to lower the risk of catching the flu in the first place by minimising exposure, building up immunity and reducing the risk of infection.

Just as there is currently no cure for the flu, there are also no supplements that can guarantee to prevent it.

One reason for this is that the flu virus mutates very rapidly, with many different strains circulating each season.

Instead, vaccination and supplements work to increase our immunity and reduce the risk of getting very sick from being infected with a flu virus.

In order to understand the role of supplements in flu management, you must first be aware that cough, fever and nasal congestion are some of the signs that the body is trying to kill intruders such as bacteria and viruses.

Fever, for instance, is nature’s own way of increasing our body temperature to destroy germs, while mucus contains natural antibiotics to fight bacteria and viruses.

When the body is putting up a fight against invading microorganisms, free radicals are produced and the body cells are damaged, resulting in inflammation.

It is through this process that one feels sick.

Hence, although supplements do not have any direct properties to prevent flu, antioxidants such as vitamins C, D and E are essential in boosting the immune system, with recent studies showing that their benefits are hard to ignore.

This is as the role of antioxidants is to hunt down the free radicals produced by the body – including while fighting the flu virus – and aid in cell repair.

This, in turn, will help reduce the severity of flu symptoms.

Those belonging to high-risk groups for flu complications, such as children below the age of five, adults above 65, and those with health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and immune deficiencies, can benefit particularly from this effect.

Gluthathione is the most abundant antioxidant in our bodies, with every living organism having some in its cells.

It is also a type of antioxidant that boosts other antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, to help them work better in fighting inflammation.

When the level of glutathione in the body is sufficient, your susceptibility to falling ill due to inflammation caused by the flu virus is reduced.

At the same time, you may also experience that “glowing skin” effect as glutathione also has positive effects on the skin.

Although our body produces glutathione naturally, the level of production may decrease with age.

It further decreases if we have a poor diet and an unhealthy lifestyle.

Certain illnesses are also linked to low glutathione levels.

Studies are still ongoing to determine whether low glutathione is the cause of certain diseases or the other way round.

However, some diseases associated with low glutathione levels, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and immune deficiency disorders, are also diseases that put one in the high-risk group for flu complications.

Omega-3 fatty acids also have a place in managing the flu.

This is as some studies indicate that DHA-enriched fish oil might contain properties that enhance the activation of certain immune cells in our body responsible for producing antibodies.

These antibodies are essential in “eating up” flu viruses.

There are also studies that demonstrate the potential of omega-3 fatty acids in reducing inflammation so that airflow to the lungs is increased in order to help protect it against the cold and other respiratory infections.

However, our bodies do not produce omega-3 fatty acids naturally.

As such, it is recommended to consume two servings of fish per week.

Some medical practitioners may recommend that those with an aversion to fish take supplements consisting of 1g of fish or krill oil a day to reap the fatty acid’s immune-enhancing compounds.

Dr Abdullah Asad Siddiqui is an integrative medicine practitioner. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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