Nearly half of Americans take a supplement during flu outbreak, survey finds

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

iStock / Shironosov
iStock / Shironosov

Related tags Immune system Common cold Upper respiratory tract infection Influenza

A new survey of 1,035 adults revealed that 60% are extremely concerned about contracting a new or particularly resilient strain of flu this year, and 47% take vitamin C or a preventative supplement as a precaution.

The annual Healthy Hand Washing Survey​ was conducted by commercial and industrial plumbing company Bradley Corporation to highlight the importance of washing one’s hands.

According to the results, taking vitamin C or “a preventative supplement” (which the survey did not specify further) was the third most popular defense method for Americans, after washing hands (61%) and increasing fluid intake (53%).

The survey was conducted as influenza and influenza-like incidences increased nationwide, as reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s FluView report. It revealed​ that influenza and influenza-like activity increased again in all states but Hawaii.

But what supplements are out there that may help consumers take preventative action? We highlight some ingredients that have been studied recently for their potential immune-support benefits:


Among all the minerals, zinc has the highest number of European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)-approved health claims, including claims for the maintenance of a normal immune system.

A 2016 study conducted in Finland​found that supplementation with zinc acetate at a dosage above 75 mg a day fared better than a placebo in reducing the duration of a common cold. The study was a follow-up to a meta-analysis​conducted a year earlier, which found that zinc lozenges may help with common colds.


Extract from the Echinacea plant is popularly used in the UK and other European countries as a way to combat the common cold. In Canada and the UK, Echinacea is registered as a health ingredient by the countries’ health authorities, supporting the use of common cold-related claims in finished products containing Echinacea.

On the other hand, growth of Echinacea use in the US has slowed down, based on the latest sales data from SPINS and HerbalGram. According to Pierce Sioussat, CEO of Bioforce, a company that distributes European supplement brands such as V. Vogel’s Echinaforce, a lack of regulatory middle ground​ in the US may have caused this decline.

What do college students think about immune support supplements?


Winter is in full blast in Chicago, a time when closed, compact quarters like university campuses often turn into hotspots for colds or even the flu.

These months are also when Google Trends witnesses peak search interest for immune support supplements such as Emergen-C, which has search peaks around December and January. WATCH VIDEO

“You have your pharmaceuticals follow one path, at the other end of the spectrum you have products that follow DSHEA protocols—but there’s nothing really in the middle where you can take an herbal medicine that has some clinical substantiation for products that are involved, then you can communicate very clearly to consumers what those products are,” he opined.​ ​


There’s building science of how specific probiotic strains may influence the immune system and its response. One study published in 2015​ in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition​ found that a combination of Lactobacillus acidophilus​ DDS-1 and Bifidobacterium lactis​ UABLA-12 may reduce the severity and duration of respiratory infections in children.

Another study​ published last year using a DuPont probiotic strain, Bifidobacterium lactis ​BI-04, showed a modest effect on the inflammatory response in the nose in response to an infection with a common cold virus.

Additionally, Japanese researchers at the Yakult Central Institute reported​ that daily consumption of a fermented milk product with Lactobacillus casei ​strain Shirota may reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections in healthy, middle-aged office workers.

Black Elderberry

There have been multiple clinical trials published on the ability of elderberry to shorten the length of time of cold and flu systems, according​ to University of San Diego ethnobotanist Dr. Kevin Curran.

He studies medicinal plants from the Sonoran and Mojave deserts, and said that many of the active compounds in local medicinal plants have to do with protecting the plants themselves from environmental stressors.

In the case of black elderberry, there’s research stretching back to the late 1990s, showing the ingredient’s ability to regulate cytokine levels in the bloodstream. More recently, a 2016 study by Australian researchers​found that black elderberry consumption was associated with the reduction of cold duration and severity for air travelers.

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