Zinc will help your cold, at least a little

NEW YORK Wed Feb 16, 2011 5:19pm EST

People practice coughing during a meeting for workers at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore, September 3, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

People practice coughing during a meeting for workers at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore, September 3, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new look at the medical evidence shows zinc supplements may take the edge off the common cold.

But not a whole lot.

Although the precise estimate is still uncertain, researchers found that people who started taking zinc-loaded lozenges or syrups within 24 hours of showing symptoms -- a sore throat, say, or runny nose -- shortened their cold by one day. By comparison, a normal cold lasts about a week.

Still, with an infection that currently has no good treatment and leads to an estimated 275 million lost work days a year in the U.S., well, what a difference a day makes.

The review, published by the Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research, also shows that people taking the supplements tended to have milder symptoms.

"I think one can give it a try," said Dr. Meenu Singh, a pediatrician at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, who led the new work.

"But giving zinc over a long period of time for prevention should be done very carefully," she told Reuters Health.

Zinc may interfere with other metals in the body, and that may have unpredictable consequences over the long haul, Singh said.

An earlier Cochrane review from 1999 didn't find any signs that zinc supplements would work. But since then several new studies - known as randomized controlled trials - have been completed.

The new review is based on 13 trials with 966 participants who either took zinc or a dummy treatment at the beginning of their symptoms. Another two trials found that zinc helped stave off colds, but the quality of that research was low.

The bottom line: After seven days of treatment, those taking the supplements had less than half the chance of still being sick.

A typical adult has a few colds every year. While the episodes usually aren't serious, the resulting visits to the doctor alone cost the U.S. an annual $7.7 billion, according to the new report.

Singh said the side effects of zinc lozenges, which can be bought for a few dollars in any drug store in the U.S., come down to bad taste and some cases of nausea.

The researchers did not study nasal zinc remedies, however.

In 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Matrixx Initiatives to stop selling its widely used supplement Zicam after more than 130 users reportedly lost their sense of smell.

Singh said there was no evidence of a similar danger from the lozenges or syrups.

Exactly how well zinc works is a matter of future research, and the one day estimate may well change, the researchers note. They add it is currently unclear what dose and particular formulation of the supplement will be most helpful.

SOURCE: bit.ly/eNBPnl The Cochrane Library, online February 15, 2011.

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Comments (3)
ugg wrote:
Zinc may work ok according to many scientists but here are my recommendations from 77 years of earth. NOT canned chicken noodle soup, because it has things listed on the can you should not put into you stomach. Use only homemade noodle soup made from scratch. Eat this for breakfast, lunch and supper for two to three days and presto the natural antibiotics within the soup will make you whole again.

Feb 16, 2011 12:18pm EST  --  Report as abuse
mike754 wrote:
Antibiotics do not work with the common cold. Any Zinc lozenge works. It has been shown on other controlled trials. I buy the generic ones from my local drug store and take them the very minute I suspect a cold might be coming and have noticed significantly reduce symptoms and length of being ill. My colds now last about 2-3 days instead of about 5 before I was taking zinc.

Feb 16, 2011 1:14pm EST  --  Report as abuse
I have never tried the Zinc approach but have heard it has helped people. Our family takes our Vidazorb which is a probiotic supplement to help boost our immunities!

Feb 19, 2011 1:32pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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