Towards a Cure for the Common Cold

Zinc may reduce duration and severity of colds

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It seems like there are millions of ways to fight the common cold, but which works best? There has been some debate about the effectiveness of zinc supplements. A recent review suggests that zinc helps.

In a review of 15 trials, Indian researchers found that taking zinc supplements at the very beginning of a cold may reduce the length and severity of the cold.

Lead researcher Meenu Singh, from the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in India, and colleagues analyzed 15 randomized controlled trials that involved a total of 1,360 participants. They compared the cold-fighting effects of taking zinc supplements to the effects of taking a placebo (no zinc).

Singh and colleagues found that zinc (in lozenge, syrup, or tablet form) helped reduce the length and severity of the common cold in healthy people, if the zinc was taken within the first 24 hours of noticing symptoms. People who took zinc supplements were also less likely to experience cold symptoms for more than a week.

The review also showed that people who took zinc for at least five months missed school less and were sick less often. Among children, zinc supplementation for five months reduced the need for prescription drugs.

Even with these positive results, the authors say that they cannot fully recommend zinc supplements to fight the common cold. They warn that more research needs to be done on how zinc might affect people with other health problems, such as asthma and other chronic illnesses. The authors also write that more research should be conducted on correct dosages of zinc supplements.

The common cold costs Americans billions of dollars per year. The direct medical costs alone amount to $17 billion annually. However, indirect costs - which amount to about $22.5 billion per year - have the biggest impact. Each year, children and adults miss an estimated 189 million school days and 126 million work days as a result of the common cold.

The results from Singh's review are published in the Cochrane Review.

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Review Date: 
March 3, 2011
Last Updated:
October 11, 2012