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April 15, 2014

The flu: Natural products or medication?

Would you like to learn more about some of the natural health products and supplements currently available? Need information on prescription and non-prescription drugs?

Here are a few common questions people ask on the subject and the answers from a pharmaceutical and medical standpoint.

1- Can vitamin C cure colds and the flu?

Vitamin C supplements cannot cure a cold or the flu. Vitamin C – or ascorbic acid, as it is called – is an antioxidant that helps to reduce the rate of cellular aging. It also speeds wound healing, promotes the synthesis of collagen and facilitates the absorption of iron. But you do not need to take it as a supplement. You can get what your body needs simply by eating several servings of fruit and vegetables every day.

2- Does taking Echinacea on a regular basis strengthen the immune system?

There is no scientific evidence that Echinacea can prevent colds and the flu. However, a few studies have shown that once the infection occurs, it can help decrease the severity and length of cold symptoms. If this product is not contraindicated for a given person, it can be taken for a maximum period of 12 weeks. But remember that Echinacea can interact with other medications. Talk to your pharmacist about its side effects and contraindications beforehand.

3- Can taking multivitamin supplements during winter prevent colds and the flu?

Multivitamins do not provide protection against colds and the flu. In fact, people who eat a healthy diet and who do not have health problems do not need to take a multivitamin. All of the essential nutrients our body needs – both vitamins and minerals – can be found in the foods we eat. Consult Canada’s Food Guide for more details.

However, if you do not have a balanced diet, a multivitamin might be a useful supplement for you. Some people may also need a supplement due to special health considerations (i.e. the elderly, pregnant women, people suffering from alcoholism, vegans, etc.).

4- Are natural products safer than regular drugs?

As is the case with prescribed and over-the-counter drugs, natural health products can have adverse side effects and interact with other medications. They can even be contraindicated for certain people depending on their health problems. In addition, natural products can actually be dangerous since many people believe they are safer and so fail to exercise care when taking them. If you have any doubts, ask your pharmacist for advice.

5- Over-the-counter drugs (OTCs) can be used by everyone and do not cause any adverse side effects, right?

Like prescription drugs, OTCs can lead to adverse side effects. They can also interact with other prescription medications. If you are taking a prescribed drug, it is always best to check with your pharmacist before taking any OTC medication.

6- Is it true that there are no risks associated with the use of nasal decongestants?

No, they can have harmful effects. When used for more than three days in a row, decongestants can cause rebound congestion. In other words, the more you use the product, the more congested you become. You can also become addicted to decongestants and have trouble breaking this dependency. If you are congested, start by talking to your pharmacist. He can give you advice suited to your specific symptoms.


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The Website deals with health-related topics. The information presented has been validated by experts and is accurate at the time of posting. In no way does it replace the opinion of a health care professional. Uniprix Inc. and its affiliated pharmacists accept no liability whatsoever in connection with the information provided on this Website.