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Do you use zinc for colds?

Posted by on May. 9, 2012 at 5:15 AM
  • 6 Replies

 Zinc may shorten the common cold in adults

But common side effects include nausea or unpleasant taste in the mouth

A new review of past studies suggests that taking zinc may cut the time adults have to suffer with a common cold, but the alternative treatment will likely come with unpleasant side effects.

The benefits of zinc also appear to be modest, and don't extend to children. But they could add up considering there are about 62 million cases of the common cold in the United States every year that result in 22 million missed days of work, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

For their review, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Dr. Michelle Science from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and her colleagues compiled data from clinical trials comparing people who took zinc orally to another group that either took a placebo or received no treatment.

The researchers included only randomized controlled trials — considered the "gold standard" of medical research — but cautioned that the quality of the results of those previous trials varied widely.

Overall, the researchers looked at 17 trials that included 2,121 people from one to 65 years old. In those taking zinc, colds were shortened by a little more than one and a half days, on average, compared to participants in the placebo group.

That changed when the researchers analyzed zinc-takers by age. In adults, zinc shortened the common cold by a little more than two and a half days compared to the placebo. In children, zinc didn't seem to make much of a difference in cold duration.

One possible reason for the difference between adults and kids, according to the authors, is that the adults tended to use a different form of zinc than the children.

Peoples' cold symptoms also seemed to clear up faster if they took a higher dosage of zinc compared to those who took the least. The various studies used different dosages, said Science.

The authors cannot say why zinc stops the rhinovirus, a frequent cause of the common cold, from reproducing. But some believe it acts as an astringent on important facial nerves where viruses tend to congregate.

Although adults who didn't take zinc tended to have colds lasting a week or more, there was no difference in the severity of cold symptoms on day three in any of the groups.

Side effects were more common in the people taking zinc, however. They were 64 percent more likely to experience nausea and 65 percent more likely to detect an unpleasant taste.

Zinc can lead to a person having a metal taste in their mouth, said Dr. Meenu Singh, a pediatrician at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, who was not involved in the new analysis.

Singh led another review published last year by the Cochrane Collaboration — an international organization that evaluates medical research — which came to similar conclusions.

"The findings are more or less the same. The side effects are the same," said Singh, who added that the new review included other studies that were excluded from hers because they did not meet Cochrane standards.

Singh told Reuters Health that people shouldn't be afraid to take zinc but should always consult their doctor first.

Science and her colleagues also warn that their results are based on studies that varied from one another in their methods and quality. Also, they did not look at zinc nasal sprays that have been linked to the loss of smell or zinc in combination with other vitamins.

"Until further evidence becomes available," they conclude, "there is only a weak rationale for physicians to recommend zinc for the treatment of the common cold."

"Otherwise, for healthy adults… it's probably an individual decision and it's something they can talk to their physician about," Science told Reuters Health.

by on May. 9, 2012 at 5:15 AM
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by on May. 9, 2012 at 11:45 AM

I hate nausea - I think I'd rather just deal with the longer cold, lol.

When my mom is starting to feel sick, she pumps herself full of zinc, vitamin c, and echinacea, and she often manages to head it off before it goes anyway. 

by on May. 9, 2012 at 11:48 AM

Interesting.  I've never taken it.

by on May. 9, 2012 at 1:53 PM

I LOVE Zicam and I swear by it..... I wont let my kids have it I am sure oneday this will come back as bad effects or something but for me I love it    it's got a huge dose of zinc and vit c   It works everytime  I love it

by on May. 9, 2012 at 2:11 PM

No, but I have sinus/nasal issues and lose my sense of smell occasionally.  I once read that high doses of zinc could restore your sense of smell (it is thought the perhaps a zinc deficiency could lead to the loss of smell)...I tried it and it worked, but only while I was taking it.  Once I stopped, the smell went away. :/

On the other hand, the FDA has warned against the use of nalsal sprays like Zicam that contain zinc (zicam actually had to pull their zinc-containing nasal products off the shelf)  because they can lead to loss of smell. That was mainly due to the topical application of the zinc to the nasal tissues though, so who knows.

by Sonja on May. 9, 2012 at 8:11 PM

 I have in the past, but haven't for awhile.

by on May. 9, 2012 at 8:38 PM

 We do use zinc. It's never caused any of us any nausea. It does leave a taste in my mouth, but no one else in my family seems to have that. I wouldnt even call the taste unpleasant. More like it makes everything taste fainly of fried eggs. LOL

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