Zinc may help speed recovery from the common cold

Recently my mum came back from a trip with a heavy springtime cold, a member of her travelling party had kindly passed on the infection and poor mum was suffering with the typical symptoms of a tickly throat, headache and runny nose.  Colds are caused by viruses and our susceptibility to these infections is largely dictated by the efficiency of our immune system.  A healthy diet providing our bodies with optimal nutrition may help to keep our immune systems strong and protect us from infection.

The symptoms of a common cold tend to last from a few days to a couple of weeks but most cases are over within one week (fortunately my mum is fit and healthy and her cold only lasted a few days!).   There is mixed evidence with regards prevention and treatment of colds with complementary health methods but I am always one to try ‘beating the bug’ naturally!

One of the nutrients that is essential for the efficient functioning of our immune system is zinc and last month a study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases (1) found that using lozenges containing zinc at the first sign of a cold (within 24 hours of developing symptoms) was associated with reduced duration and severity of cold symptoms.  This study adds weight to previous research indicating that zinc lozenges, sucked in the mouth and not swallowed whole, seem to help prevent infection from the common cold and also accelerate recovery once infected. 

This most recent study involved 50 volunteers who had suffered cold symptoms, such as a cough, runny nose and muscle aches, for less than 24 hours. Half of the participants were given zinc lozenges, containing about 13mg of zinc, and half were given inactive ‘placebo’ lozenges (the two groups were not aware of which lozenges they had been assigned).  They then took one lozenge every 2 to 3 hours while awake.  The group taking the zinc lozenges had cold symptoms for an average of 3 days less than those taking the placebo.  Every cell in our body needs zinc and the investigators believe that beneficial clinical effects seen in the zinc group were due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that this nutrient has in the body.

Lozenges and dissolvable tablets and drinks often contain vitamin C, another nutrient which some studies suggest (2) may be useful in reducing the severity and duration of cold symptoms.  If you feel a cold coming on it may be useful to try sucking on a lozenge every three hours or so while symptoms persist.  

(1) Prasad AS, Beck FW, Bao B, Snell D, Fitzgerald JT.  2008.  Duration and severity of symptoms and levels of plasma interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, soluble tumor necrosis factor receptor, and adhesion molecules in patients with common cold treated with zinc acetate.  J Infect Dis.  Mar 15;197(6):795-802
(2) Van Straten et al.  2002.  Preventing the common cold with a vitamin C supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey.   Adv Ther.  19(3):151-159

Written by Ani Kowal