Is Zinc Really Good for a Cold?

Young Girl with ColdsA review of the medical research on zinc shows that when it is taken within one day of the first symptoms, it can cut down the time you have a cold by about 24 hours. It also greatly reduces the severity of symptoms.

The authors of the review did not make any suggestions as to what type of zinc product to buy. They also did not suggest an optimal dose or formulation, stating that more research was needed before such a recommendation could be made.

Zinc supplements also have downsides -- they can cause nausea and a bad taste in the mouth, and they may interfere with your body's uptake of other key minerals.

According to the New York Times:

"Zinc experts say that many over-the-counter zinc products may not be as effective as those studied by researchers because commercial lozenges and syrups often are made with different formulations of zinc and various flavors and binders that can alter the effectiveness of the treatment."

Colds are transmitted only by droplets, such as from sneezing, that come from a person who's infected. These droplets can, however, remain on surfaces for some time. Colds normally last about seven days.

Cold medicines are not recommended for children under 4, and no cold medicines are cures -- they only relieve symptoms. Washing your hands is still the number one recommended way to keep yourself free of colds.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

I've written extensively about how to naturally avoid the common cold using such techniques as eating right, sleeping well, exercising, and optimizing your vitamin D levels.

I've also covered how to sensibly manage a cold without exposing yourself to the possible dangerous side effects of over the counter cold medicines, including avoiding taking over-the-counter pain-relief medications, as a study showed that people who take aspirin and Tylenol (acetaminophen) suppress their body's ability to produce antibodies to destroy the cold virus.

A recent comprehensive scientific review of the available research now also supports the use of zinc to lessen both the duration and the severity of the common cold. But the researchers stopped short of recommending a specific dose.

Zinc has long been suggested as a defense against the common cold, but mainstream medical sources typically report the potential benefits of zinc along with a warning that studies supporting zinc tend to be poorly designed or have other methodology flaws.

Could this be because big pharma cannot patent the common mineral zinc and sell you a prescription for it?

The booming sickness industry in America that we call "health care" is far too interested in selling you their over-the-counter or prescription concoctions, which may actually make you sicker, than advocate simple and preventative healthy lifestyle changes and natural remedies to colds like zinc.

What the Cochrane Collaboration Says About Zinc

The Cochrane Collaboration, an international not for profit organization that prepares, maintains and promotes the accessibility of systematic reviews of the effects of health care, reports that it reviewed 15 randomized control trials, consisting of 1360 participants of all age groups to study the effects of zinc versus a placebo.

The results showed that when administering either syrup or lozenges within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, healthy people taking zinc suffered colds of a shorter duration and of lesser severity.

This confirms what many people have long thought about zinc, that it helps fight the common cold when taken at the onset of symptoms. The review stopped short of recommending any specific dose of zinc, citing the need for further studies to establish optimal formulations and durations of treatment.

The people taking lozenges were more likely to experience adverse affects than those taking syrup, including a bad taste in their mouth and nausea.

Zinc was also not recommended for anyone with an underlying health condition, like lowered immune function, asthma or chronic illness.

What the Cochrane Collaboration Did Not Say About Zinc

The review did not reveal that last year, the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers to stop using Zicam nasal sprays and swabs, which contain zinc, after numerous reports that some users lost their sense of smell after using the product.

The review also did not discuss the fact that taking too much zinc can interfere with your body's ability to absorb other minerals, including and especially iron, magnesium and copper.

Your body needs a little bit of all the trace minerals for optimal health, and they are found naturally in fresh, organic protein foods, including beef, lamb, turkey, chicken, salmon. Trace minerals are also found in organic fruits and vegetables.

Zinc is an important mineral, especially when you are trying to naturally manage a cold. But you don't need massive doses. The studies reviewed showed the beneficial qualities of zinc in fighting the common cold used between 50 and 65 mg a day.

Keep in mind that any time you isolate one mineral and ingest it independently of the others, the potential exists for imbalance, or in the worst case, overdose.

I wouldn't currently recommend taking more than 50 mg a day, and I wouldn't suggest taking even those supplemental levels on a daily basis to help ward off colds in the first place as you could easily develop a copper imbalance. You can also activate the "Reverse Effect" in which too much of a good nutrient can actually cause the opposite of what it's supposed to do.,

It's much better to get your zinc from a well balanced diet.

How Zinc Fights the Common Cold

There are usually around 200 distinct viruses circulating each year that make up "the common cold" and while it's not certain how the zinc curbs a cold, it appears to have antiviral properties that prevent the cold virus from replicating or attaching to your nasal membranes.

Research also indicates zinc may have immune boosting properties, allowing your body to mount a stronger first response at the onset of cold symptoms. While many strains of the cold virus have an incubation period of a day or two, pinpointing exactly when the onset of symptoms begins can be tricky.

You MUST Take Zinc Early in a Cold if it is Going to Work

But the research is clear on two points -- the initial dose of zinc must be taken within 24 hours of the initial symptoms, and people taking zinc are less likely to have their cold symptoms last more than seven days while supplementing with zinc lozenges or syrup.

Good Dietary Sources of Zinc

For adults, the RDA for zinc is about 11 milligrams per day for adult men and 8 milligrams for women. If you are lactating or pregnant, you need about 3 mg more. For children, 4-8 year olds need about 5mg, and 9-13 year olds need 8mg, while infants need only about 3 mg.

Besides protein rich foods like meats and fish, other good dietary sources of zinc include raw milk, raw cheese, beans, and yogurt or kefir made from raw milk.

If you are healthy and you eat a well-balanced diet, you will rarely need supplements to complete your body's zinc needs. And then again you likely won't ever catch a cold in the first place and require supplemental zinc.