If you don’t want to suffer from another cold this season, you may want to take a zinc supplement. A review of 15 studies showed that intake of zinc supplements reduced the incidence of developing a cold. If they did get a cold, zinc users significantly reduced the duration and severity of their cold symptoms.
Reducing the incidence and severity of the common cold would be beneficial for a number of reasons. We would suffer less and miss fewer days of school and work. Adults on average suffer from two to four colds a year. Children can get six to ten colds a year and even more if they are in daycare or school. An estimated 22 to 189 million school days are missed annually due to colds. As a result, parents missed over 126 million workdays to stay home and care for sick kids. When combined with the 150 million work days missed by employees due to a cold, the total economic impact of work days missed is over $20 billion a year!
Fewer colds would also save time from visiting the doctor and money paid for medicine. In the U.S., the common cold leads to 75-100 million doctor visits annually, with a cost of over $7.7 billion. Americans spend almost 3 billion a year on over-the-counter drugs which help provide symptomatic relief.
Given the negative economic impact, researchers from the Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group were searching for a medication or treatment that could reduce the incidence of the common cold. They focused on zinc as prior studies indicated that zinc lozenges may affect the incidence, duration and severity of cold symptoms.
The researchers included thirteen studies involving almost 1,000 adults and children that used a zinc treatment for at least five days after a cold was contracted (therapeutic trial). They also examined two studies involving almost 400 children who were provided with zinc for at least 5 months to prevent a cold (prophylactic trial).
The trials used different formulations of zinc including lozenges (doses varied from 90 mg to 160 mg daily), tablets and a syrup preparation (30 mg).
Based on the review, intake of zinc in healthy adults and children was associated with a significant reduction in the overall duration and severity of cold symptoms when taken within 24 hours of onset of symptoms. In most adults, a cold typically lasts about 7.4 days. For zinc users, the symptoms like cough, nasal drainage, nasal congestion and sore throat lasted for about one day less. A third fewer zinc users were symptomatic after 7 days (373 vs. 563 per 1,000) when compared with non-zinc users.
Zinc supplementation for at least 5 months reduced the incidence of colds, school absenteeism and prescription of antibiotics in children. Zinc users suffered on average about half the number of colds as compared with non-zinc users (382 vs. 618 cold per 1,000 people). The incidence of antibiotic use in zinc users was less than half that of non-zinc users (127 vs 330 per 1,000).
The incidence of adverse events such as nausea and bad taste was higher in the treatment groups. But, the syrup and tablet preparations were better tolerated than zinc lozenges.
The vast majority of colds are most often caused by the rhinovirus. Researchers believe that zinc possesses antiviral properties which inhibit the growth of eight of the nine strains of rhinoviruses. Zinc may also prevent the rhinovirus from attaching onto cells inside the nose.
“This review strengthens the evidence for zinc as a treatment for the common cold,” said Meenu Singh, lead researcher for the study.
Given the variability in the dose, formulation and duration of zinc used in the studies, the review said and that additional studies are needed to determine the optimal treatment plan to maximize benefits while minimizing any adverse effects.
The Bottom Line
The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract caused primarily by rhinoviruses and coronaviruses. Given that over 200 different viral types cause colds and these viruses tend to mutate, the chance of finding a cure is not likely.
This review is intriguing because the simple act of taking a daily Multi-Vitamin & Mineral which typically is formulated with zinc, may help to prevent you from catching a cold.
Some other preventative measures you can take:
- Stay away from infected co-workers, friends and family. Close proximity increases the chances of transmitting the virus from them to you.
- Hand wash with soap. Washing your hands with soapy water and drying helps to remove the virus. Note, antibacterial soaps which kill bacteria are not effective as the common cold is caused by a virus.
- Clean contaminated surfaces. Anywhere an infected person touches like phones, computers or any other communal space is likely to harbor germs. Keep these surfaces clean to reduce the chance of transmission.
- Use a humidifier. The reason colds are more prevalent during the cold winter months may have more to do with the dry air. Droplet borne infections, like the cold, travel greater distances in dry air.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking extends the duration of a cold by an average of 3 days.
- Get enough sleep. If you get less than seven hours of sleep a night, you’re three times more likely to catch a cold.
- Exercise on a regular basis. Studies have shown that people who regularly exercise are less likely to catch a cold. Physically active adults that get a cold experience fewer and milder symptoms than those who don’t exercise.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.