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Can Zinc Cure the Common Cold?

From stuffed up sinuses to aches that just won’t quit, colds can be pesky to deal with. But could zinc be the cure-all?
Can Zinc Cure the Common Cold?

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Found naturally in foods from meats to nuts, zinc is the second most abundant metal in the body (after iron). And not only is zinc essential for our bodies to function properly, it may also help kick a cold fast [1].

Zap It With Zinc — Why It Matters

Here’s the deal: The common cold is usually caused by a virus, meaning no number of antibiotics can beat it. A cold can be caused by more than 100 different bugs, but the rhinovirus is the most common. Best of all, it’s highly contagious and can be spread through the air or by hand-to-hand contact (so wash up)! The sickly symptoms can appear just about anywhere in the head and chest, including sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing, congestion, or just all around aches and fatigue.

But there is some good news. Studies (and over 30 years of research!) have shown zinc may be the answer to getting over colds faster [2] [3] [4] [5]. A review of relevant studies found taking zinc supplements within 24 hours of first experiencing cold symptoms reduced both the severity and duration of the cold [1]. Plus, taking zinc supplements over a longer period of time reduced the number of colds and missed school days for kids (sucks for them!) [1].

Cold Shoulder — The Answer/Debate

While all signs seem to point to yes, we do still have our reservations about this cold-zapper. While research shows zinc lozenges can be effective, the same benefits may not carry over to zinc sprays and other types of supplements, or to the zinc naturally found in food [6]. While the daily recommended value of zinc is only 12 to 15 mg, one study suggests it may take upwards of 75mg in lozenge form to have any effect on colds [6].

One way not to get a zinc fix, though, is through the nose— The FDA warns such nasal sprays could cause loss of smell! And as much as colds suck, getting over them a little faster probably isn’t worth permanently damaging smell receptors. But we’re not out of the water yet! Even in lozenge form, the side effects can be unfortunate, including nausea or a bad taste in the mouth. Over an extended period of time, it’s safe to consume as much as 40 mg daily, but researchers aren’t sure what the effects of higher dosage would be— though anecdotal evidence suggests they’re less than desirable. For a less intrusive option, focus on getting the recommended daily value of zinc regularly through diet!

The Takeaway
Zinc won’t cure a cold altogether, but it could help us get over colds faster.

So is zinc your go-to, too? What do you take to kick a cold quick?

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Works Cited +

  1. Zinc for the common cold. Singh, M., Das, R.R. Department of Pediatrics, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Sector 12, Chandigarh, India. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2011 Feb 16;(2):CD001364.
  2. Reduction in duration of common colds by zinc gluconate lozenges in a double-blind study. Eby, G.A., Davis, D.R., Halcomb, W.W. Antimicrobial Therapy and Chemotherapy, 1984 Jan;25(1):20-4.
  3. Efficacy of zinc against common cold viruses: an overview. Hulisz, D. School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, 2004 Sep-Oct;44(5):594-603.
  4. Zinc gluconate lozenges for treating the common cold. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Mossad, S.B., Macknin, M.L., Medendorp, S.V., et al. Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Ohio. Annals of Internal Medicine, 1996 Jul 15;125(2):81-8.
  5. Effectiveness of zinc gluconate glycine lozenges (Cold-Eeze) against the common cold in school-aged subjects: a retrospective chart review. McElroy, B.H., Miller, S.P. The Heritage Center, Provo, Utah. American Journal of Therapeutics, 2002 Nov-Dec;9(6):472-5.
  6. Zinc lozenges may shorten the duration of colds: a systematic review. Hemilä, H. Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland. The Open Respiratory Medical Journal, 2011;5:51-8. Epub 2011 Jun 23.