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Posted at 7:00 PM ET, 02/15/2011

Got a cold? Think zinc, report concludes

By Rob Stein

Suffering through another miserable bout of sneezing, coughing, and nose-blowing? Could zinc help? Apparently yes, according to an authoritative group that specializes in separating myth from fact when it comes to medical treatments.

Evidence has been accumulating that zinc could reduce the severity and duration of the common cold, which accounts for about 40 percent of all the time taken off of work and millions of days of school missed each year by children. But the evidence has remained mixed, leaving its effectiveness an open question.

After all, there have been lots of so-called "natural" remedies that have been touted for many illnesses that have failed to live up their hype.

But not so for zinc and the common cold, according to The Cochrane Library, an international group that regularly reviews the scientific evidence for therapies.

The new review, released this week, included data from 15 trials involving 1,360 people. Zinc syrup or lozenges taken within a day of the first symptoms reduce the severity and length of the illness, the researchers concluded. After a week, significantly more patients who took zinc no longer had symptoms compared to those who took placebos, the researchers reported. People who took zinc supplements for at least five months were less likely to get colds and miss school because of them, the researchers reported. Zinc also reduced antibiotic use in children, according to the report.

"This review strengthens the evidence for zinc as a treatment for the common cold," said Meenu Singh of the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarth, India, who led the research, in a statement released with the report on Tuesday.

Singh noted, however, that there still was insufficient evidence to make specific recommendations about how much zinc to take and for how long. Additional research was also needed to determine the benefits of zinc for specific types of people,

"Our review only looked at zinc supplementation in healthy people," Singh said. "It would be interesting to find out whether zinc supplementation could help asthmatics, whose asthma symptoms tend to get worse when they catch a cold."

More research was also needed in poor countries, where zinc deficiencies may be common, the researchers said. It also remains unclear how zinc may help alleviate the misery caused by cold viruses.

By Rob Stein  | February 15, 2011; 7:00 PM ET
Categories:  Dietary supplements, Infectious Disease, colds  
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Many former Bunker Hill (Idaho)employees know that breathing Zinc Dust prevented colds. One of our duties was to shovel zinc dust from the zinc smelter. No one ever had a cold while shoveling the dust.
Many oldtimers would claim they never had a cold.

Posted by: oletafive | February 15, 2011 7:56 PM | Report abuse

And last week they had a guy on television that was in a wheelchair due to neurological problems he said were caused by the zinc in denture cream. Maybe he didn't get colds though.

Posted by: wonderingstevie | February 16, 2011 1:11 AM | Report abuse

I have concerns about the long term effects of overuse of the zinc. If you get colds 2-3 times per year, and you take lozenges for 2-3 weeks, average, per year. What that does to your body hasn't been studied, so if there is validity that the zinc may cause this man's neurological problems, then I'll take a few more days of a cold over that.
It's interesting, after 20 years of HIV research worth billions of dollars, we still haven't eradicated that virus. What makes us think we understand the complexities of the immune system and any other virus? There is too much unknown to compel me to suck zinc lozenges all day long.

Posted by: jiboo | February 16, 2011 12:24 PM | Report abuse

As an avid Cold-eeze user I can certainly attest to this. I don't take them regularly, only when I start to feel cold symptoms oncoming and oila! Still a cold, but one greatly reduced in intensity of symptoms and length of symptoms. So far after about 6-8 colds suffered over the last couple years, it's only failed to work one time.

Posted by: jennifereshields | February 16, 2011 1:50 PM | Report abuse

jiboo--In my experience, zinc lozenges reduce the duration of a cold from a miserable 10 days to 1-3 days, eliminating most of the upper respiratory symptoms. This requires at most 4 lozenges per day for those 1-3 days.

I've only had 2 full-blown colds since the late 90s when Cold-Eeze was introduced, and those included severe laryngitis, an atypical symptom for me. Prior to lozenge use, I suffered 2 or 3 miserable colds per year, each of which required almost 3 weeks to recover fully from residual sinus irritation, coughing, etc. I never got "just the sniffles."

Posted by: Erasma | February 16, 2011 2:22 PM | Report abuse

You've linked to the wrong review. The new one is here:

(This is especially important, because the study you've linked to says pretty much the opposite of this one, which made me quite confused.)

Posted by: marag | February 16, 2011 9:33 PM | Report abuse

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