Vitamins: Should They Go The Way of The Flintstones?

I am often asked about what individuals can do to protect themselves from infections, particularly the common cold. 

If one goes to any convenience store it's easy to find several "immunity boosting" concoctions consisting of several vitamins (B-complex, C, etc) which are non-trivial in cost.

Does vitamin supplementation have any effect on the rate of respiratory infections or the like? (One major caveat, I am assuming the consumption of a regular diet in the developed world by an immune competent individual.)

The answer is no.

Studies have repeatedly shown that vitamins, especially D and C, have no effect on the rate of upper respiratory infections. Of course, these facts don't stop the hordes of people that swear by them from spending money on what could be duplicated for about $1--with better taste, in my opinion--by consuming a can of V8.

Moreover, vitamin supplementation--as such--has not proven to be efficacious for any reason (mortality, etc) prompting a great editorial in Annals of Internal Medicine entitled "Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements" with which I totally agree. 


Vicks VapoRub: Smell Good while Avoiding Antibiotics

It seems like several of my friends and acquaintances have some sort of viral illness, either gastrointestinal or respiratory in nature. 

Currently, we are in the midst of influenza season with reports that H1N1 is again causing severe disease--some of which I have seen myself in the ICU.

Along with influenza, other respiratory viruses such as RSV are circulating and capable of causing mild or even severe illness. While there are antivirals available for influenza, there isn't much to do for the other viruses.

Today, I was asked by one of my friends what he should do for chest congestion.

I said "How, about a Z-Pak?"

Just kidding.

What I recommend is a combination of a few things:

  • Ibuprofen or naproxen for fever, aches, pains, and headache
  • DayQuil (or the generic version of it) for symptomatic relief of congestion, cough, etc.
  • Vicks VapoRub

My friend employed Vicks VapoRub and seemed to immediately report improved symptoms. While anecdotal evidence is not trivial more robust data on the efficacy of Vicks VapoRub in improving sleep of sick children and their caregivers and symptoms (albeit in children) exists. 

My friend wanted to know how Vicks VapoRub work and I didn't really have a good answer so I did a little checking. 

The ingredients include menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus oil and the mechanism of action seems to stem from the ability of menthol to stimulate the TRPM8 channel resulting in improvements in respiration.

So, instead of reaching for antibiotics try VapoRub--you'll feel better and you'll smell better (that's not even considering antibiotic-associated diarrhea).

If VapoRub became the fragrance of the season, we would all be better off.