Zinc Supplements Shown to Be Effective Cold Remedy

It’s no magic bullet, but taking zinc supplements can help ward off and ?treat the pesky common cold?

Credit: iStockphoto / danleap

Zinc supplements can reduce the severity and duration of a cold

Theories abound, from old wives’ tales and folk remedies to the proven benefits of frequent hand-washing. Now comes scientific re-examination of one easily available remedy for the common cold: zinc

Common cold symptoms are often the result of infection by one of a few different strains of upper respiratory viruses. It’s one of the most widespread illnesses, and can also result in complications, triggering asthma attacks and ear and sinus infections.

The average cold drags on for about 7.5 days, while 25 per cent of sufferers may still have symptoms at two weeks. So anything that even partially helps ameliorate or prevent symptoms is welcome. 

Benefits of Taking Zinc

Researchers from the Cochrane Collaboration (an international organization of experts who review bona fide health research to provide evidence-based recommendations) have updated their opinion regarding the benefits of taking zinc to help ward off and treat the common cold.

In their recent Cochrane Systematic Review, experts say that zinc supplements are associated with a reduction in the severity and duration of common cold symptoms.

In studying 15 randomized controlled trials involving over 1,300 healthy participants of all age groups comparing zinc to placebos, researchers found that taking zinc supplements within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms could help shorten the duration of a cold by one to two days.

It also appeared that children who took zinc supplements for at least five months as a preventative measure had almost 40 per cent fewer colds than those in the placebo groups.

How Much Zinc?

So how much zinc should a person take? Given the variability of doses used in the studies, researchers concluded the dose still needs to be optimized. However, when it comes to zinc tablets or syrup, about 30 milligrams a day seemed to do the trick. (Check product labels for correct concentrations.)

With the lozenges, most contained about 10 milligrams of zinc, and study participants took about 100 milligrams (10 lozenges) a day for effect.

Notably, no studies were done on those with chronic underlying illness (such as asthma, chronic lung disease, compromised immunity) where the common cold could produce more serious effects. Hence the reviewers say the use of zinc cannot be recommended for these folks.

Hand Washing is the Best Prevention

Finally, I must throw in a hand-washing message. Research shows that kids who wash their hands at least four times a day have 25 per cent fewer colds, 50 per cent fewer gastrointestinal illnesses and 75 per cent fewer missed school days compared to kids who washed their hands less often.

One stat for adults suggests that washing your hands seven or more times a day results in four times fewer illnesses than those who soap up less often during cold and flu season.

Your Health with Dr. Rhonda Low airs weekdays during CTV News at Five and CTV News at Six.

Originally published in TV Week. For daily updates, subscribe to the free TV Week e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.