For generations, scientists have been looking for a cure to one of life’s most annoying illnesses: the common cold. Now, a new report from the prestigious (and reliable) Cochrane Library says that taking zinc within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms can reduce the cold’s severity and shorten its length.
The Cochrane Collaboration doesn’t do its own research. Instead, it collects data from other research and analyzes the information to see if all those other studies, taken together, present a clear picture. In this case, The Cochrane Collaboration looked at 15 studies, with a total of nearly 1,400 participants.
The “summary” findings were that people who took zinc within 24 hours of the first symptom had milder symptoms and an overall shorter illness (although the zinc only shaved about a day or two off the length of the cold). Scientists believe that zinc stops the cold germs (rhinovirus) from replicating.
Unfortunately, The Cochrane Library analysis didn’t say how much zinc to take, or which chemical formulation, or what form might be best—zinc comes in supplement tablets, liquid, nasal sprays, and lozenges. And, most importantly, zinc itself can have some pretty serious side effects. Minor side effects of zinc can include nausea and a “bad taste” in the mouth. Serious side effects can include loss of the sensation of taste (with lozenges) or permanent loss of sense of smell (with nasal spray). People with chronic illnesses may not be able to take zinc without further compromising their illness. (We recommend checking with your health care provider before beginning any new over-the-counter supplement or medication, including zinc.)
According to an article in The New York Times, not just any zinc will do.
“A lot of preparations have added so many things that they aren’t releasing zinc properly,” said Dr. Ananda Prasad, professor in the department of oncology at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit and an early pioneer of research into zinc as an essential mineral. Two of Dr. Prasad’s studies were included in the Cochrane report.
Dr. Prasad said his studies have used zinc acetate lozenges from ColdCure.com that contained about 13 milligrams of zinc. Study participants took a lozenge every three to four hours during the day for four consecutive days, resulting in a daily dose of 50 to 65 milligrams a day, he said.
Again, please check with a doctor before taking zinc supplements, especially if you have a chronic illness.
There’s no doubt that this latest report will bring a new crop of studies looking to confirm the efficacy of zinc in combatting the common cold. It’s not quite time to sell your stock in Kleenex, but there may be fewer runny noses in your future!