Zinc May Curb Cold Symptoms
By Lynne Peeples
TUESDAY, February 15 (Health.com)
As everyone knows, there's no cure for the common cold. So most
people simply suffer through two or more colds a year, often missing days of
work or school in the process.
Scientists still haven't found a cure, but a new expert
review suggests that taking zinc
supplements may help ease cold
symptoms-and may even prevent the viral infections altogether.
Nearly 30 years of research on zinc and colds has had
mixed results and has been marred by iffy studies. To get a sound big-picture
assessment of zinc's benefits, researchers in India sifted through the evidence
and analyzed 15 randomized controlled trials-the "gold standard" in
medical research-that compared zinc with placebo for the prevention or
treatment of the common cold.
When they compiled the evidence, the researchers found
that healthy adults and children who took zinc syrup, lozenges, or tablets
within 24 hours of their first cough or sniffle experienced shorter and less
severe colds than the participants who took a zinc-free placebo. Taking zinc
reduced the odds that a person would still be experiencing symptoms at the
seven-day mark by more than half.
mineral that occurs naturally in nuts, seeds, meats, fruits, and
vegetables-also appeared to help prevent colds. Study participants who took
zinc syrup or lozenges daily for at least five months cut their chances of
developing a cold by about one-third, on average. As a result, the children in
those studies who took zinc missed fewer days of school and took fewer antibiotics
than their peers.
"These findings don't surprise me. We're learning
that zinc can be quite helpful," says David Rakel, MD, director of
integrative medicine at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who was not
involved in the review. "We know it is an important mineral for immune
function and that it can inhibit the replication of some viruses."
Zinc supplements do carry some potential risks. Some of
the study participants experienced nausea and a bad taste in their mouths while
taking zinc, for instance. And zinc supplements can interfere with the body's
uptake of other key minerals such as copper and calcium, Dr. Rakel says.
The authors of the review, which was published in the
Cochrane Library, stopped short of recommending over-the-counter zinc
supplements. Because the studies included in the review were so varied, they
wrote, it wasn't possible to identify an ideal dose, a formulation, or a
schedule for taking zinc.
Still, Dr. Rakel says, "zinc looks pretty promising.
We need to take precautions, particularly with long-term use, but I'd still
recommend it to my patients at the first sign of cold symptoms."
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