Does zinc really shorten a cold?
While there still may not be a cure for the common cold, scientists have determined that a popular remedy actually does shorten a cold’s duration.
Researchers from the U.S. and Finland conducted a study on the effects of using zinc acetate lozenges to battle a cold. The study involved nearly 200 cold patients, some of whom were given zinc lozenges, while others received a placebo. The results showed that the zinc patients saw their cold’s duration shortened by nearly three days.
Zinc lozenges, sold over-the-counter under brand names like Cold-EEZE® and Zicam® have been used by consumers for many years. While a previous study had shown that zinc use did shorten the term of a cold, it suggested that the presence of allergies might play a role.
“One study indicated that zinc lozenges might be more effective for common cold patients with allergies, but we showed that the efficacy is the same for those with and without allergies,” the new study’s lead author, Dr. Harri Hemila, said in a press release.
The researchers found that the effectiveness of zinc lozenges was also not impacted by smoking, symptom severity, age, gender or ethnic group.
“Common cold patients should be encouraged to try zinc acetate lozenges not exceeding 100 mg of elemental zinc per day for treating their colds,” said Dr. Hemila.
“The use of zinc for relief of cold symptoms has been studied and has had varying recommendations — from some studies showing a lack of evidence to support its use to others that show the opposite,” says Dr. Michael Springer, an Advocate Medical Group family medicine physician on staff at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. “If it is to be used, zinc should be started within 24 hours of symptom onset.”
Dr. Springer notes that adverse effects can occur with zinc use, including a bad taste in the mouth and nausea. Use of zinc nasal sprays may lead to loss of smell – sometimes permanent — and long-term use of high dose zinc (>100 mg/day) can interfere with copper absorption issues, leading to other health issues, he cautions.
“Definitive treatment for the common cold continues to elude modern medicine,” Dr. Springer says. “The best treatment continues to be prevention — washing hands and covering mouth/nose when coughing to reduce the spread.”
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