Zinc and the common cold: a closer look at the benefits and risks

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In recent research, zinc has been spotlighted as a possible treatment to shorten the duration of the common cold, suggesting that it might reduce how long people suffer by approximately two days.

However, the results are not definite, and the benefits of using zinc need to be weighed against its potential side effects.

Zinc is a mineral that is essential for maintaining good health and supports the immune system. It is found naturally in many foods, and most people living in wealthier countries receive enough zinc from their diet.

Despite this, some individuals, especially the elderly and those with chronic illnesses, might not have enough zinc, which can lead to a deficiency.

Since the 1980s, various zinc products such as lozenges, sprays, and syrups have been available in the market, especially popular in the United States.

The idea is that zinc might block the virus that causes the common cold from multiplying when it comes into contact with the throat or nasal passages.

Laboratory studies on cells and in mice have shown that zinc can interfere with the virus’s ability to replicate, but these findings do not necessarily mean it will be effective in humans.

To explore the effectiveness of zinc, researchers analyzed multiple studies involving humans. They looked at 19 trials where zinc was tested as a treatment and another 15 where it was used as a preventative measure.

These studies varied greatly in terms of how they were conducted, including differences in the zinc doses given, the way colds were defined, and what specific effects were measured.

Out of these, eight trials with a total of 972 participants specifically examined whether zinc could reduce the length of a cold.

The findings from these studies suggested that zinc might shorten the duration of a cold by around two days compared to those who took a placebo, who typically experienced symptoms for about a week.

Despite these findings, the review noted that zinc did not seem to significantly affect how severe the cold symptoms were.

Furthermore, there was no clear evidence from the prevention studies that taking zinc in advance could ward off colds. People who took zinc as a preventive measure experienced similar outcomes to those who did not take any.

Users of zinc also reported several side effects, including digestive issues, nausea, and a bad taste in the mouth. There were no reports of severe side effects directly caused by zinc.

Assistant Professor Daryl Nault from the Maryland University of Integrative Health, who led the study, advises caution. He notes that those considering zinc for cold treatment should be aware of the mixed evidence and the potential for side effects.

He recommends consulting a doctor if you’re feeling unwell and discussing any supplements you might be considering.

The review also highlighted the need for more uniform standards in conducting studies on zinc. Differences in how zinc treatments are administered, how results are reported, and the outcomes measured made it challenging to draw firm conclusions.

Looking ahead, more research is needed to confirm the potential benefits of zinc for treating the common cold. Future studies should aim to standardize how treatments are given and results are reported.

Researchers are particularly interested in identifying which forms and doses of zinc might be most effective.

Professor Susan Wieland from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the senior author of the study, emphasizes the need for further research to fully understand the role of zinc in cold treatment.

By focusing on promising zinc products and adopting rigorous statistical methods, future research can provide clearer insights into whether zinc could be a useful remedy for the common cold.

If you care about nutrition, please read studies about what you need to know about supplements and cancer, and this supplement could reduce coughing, congestion, and sore throat.

For more information about nutrition, please see recent studies that vitamin D can help reduce inflammation, and results showing vitamin K may lower your heart disease risk by a third.

The research findings can be found in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

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