Zinc may curb cold symptoms
February 15th, 2011
07:37 PM ET

Zinc may curb cold symptoms

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.

Health.com: How to stop a cold in its tracks

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.

Zinc—a 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."

Health.com: The top 7 natural cold remedies: do they work?

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."

Copyright Health Magazine 2011

soundoff (108 Responses)
  1. Trevor

    Of course Zinc works! Probably the best cold/flu treatment available is Zycam... it's basically active forms of Zinc.

    February 15, 2011 at 20:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brandon in FL

      Yep, been using it for years. It takes a week-long cold and turns it into 1 or 2 days. Thanks Zicam.

      February 16, 2011 at 09:15 | Report abuse |
    • Jag

      Wow, we wasted all that money on double-blinded placebo controlled trials. I should have just asked you!

      February 16, 2011 at 09:57 | Report abuse |
    • runjackrun

      I also vouch for zinc. At the first sign of a sniffle I take zinc lozenges and within a couple days all symptoms of a cold are gone. It's important not to chew on the lozenge. It's also recommended not to take it on an empty stomach or you will have a tummy ache. Lozenges come in several flavors and there are even sugar-free flavors.

      February 16, 2011 at 10:35 | Report abuse |
    • eleve

      Have used Zycam myself (and so have family members) with very good empiric results. What this story doesn't mention is that what seemed to be a very effective delivery method (the zinc-impregnated nasal swab) was linked to loss of sense of smell in some people, and for some of them, it was permanent. Am curious to know about efficacy of the other delivery methods (lozenge vs syrup vs tablet). Anyone know?

      February 16, 2011 at 10:49 | Report abuse |
    • alan

      I haven't had a cold or a flu in over 6 now right when I started taking Echinacea. NOT Zinc, NOT vitamin C. But Echinacea will never get the respect it deserves because it's an herb and is not regulated by the government.

      February 16, 2011 at 11:25 | Report abuse |
    • alan

      I meant to say 6 years. I think not getting a cold is better than shortening the duration. Try Echinacea!

      February 16, 2011 at 11:27 | Report abuse |
    • ConcernedConsumer

      But what about that 2009 letter from the FDA, outlining over one hundred confirmed cases that positively linked three of their medicines to either temporary or permanent loss of the sense of smell?

      February 16, 2011 at 11:36 | Report abuse |
    • U.R. Guessing

      @Brandon: If it's gone in 2 or 3 days how do you know that it's a week-long cold? Answer = You don't.

      February 16, 2011 at 11:52 | Report abuse |
    • Rob_in_MN

      I've been taking Zinc and Echinacea at the very first sign of a sore throat and have avoided countless colds and flu's as those around me suffer. Has been working for me for many years.

      February 16, 2011 at 11:53 | Report abuse |
    • Joe M.

      Zinc absolutely works for me, over and over again. It stops sneezing. It stops sore throats and throat tickle. It clears sinuses. I used the Zinc Lozenges made by PharmAssure and sold at Rite Aid Drug stores. I also use a sauna to stop symtoms of a cold, but since using zinc, I haven't needed to use the sauna as much.

      February 16, 2011 at 11:54 | Report abuse |
    • veggiedude

      Zinc tablets are cheaper than Zycam, and have more zinc in them. : )

      February 16, 2011 at 12:10 | Report abuse |
    • B0z0

      Loss of smell is attributed to high doses of Zinc gel that are injected into the nose w/ a pump. The oral form never had that problem..

      February 16, 2011 at 12:51 | Report abuse |
    • weaver

      I have been taking 30mg of zinc and 500mg of Vit-C every 4 hours when I get the "feeling" of a cold starting........I have done this for many years now. I have not had a solid cold in as many years...........I have recommended this to all I know........IT WORKS!!!!!!

      February 16, 2011 at 13:45 | Report abuse |
    • thersa

      If you take Zycam you may risk permanently losing your sense of smell (and therefore your ability to taste most foods). Not worth it.

      February 16, 2011 at 14:00 | Report abuse |
    • Jimmy

      I have tried Theramax Relief new at Rite Aid stores, it works right away stopped two colds this year dead in its tracks. The stuff works awesome!

      February 16, 2011 at 14:27 | Report abuse |
    • Debby Bruck

      Zinc-echinacea lozenges have been a staple at the onset of cold and flu symptoms, especially sore throat.

      February 16, 2011 at 14:56 | Report abuse |
    • evoc

      Wow, this is old news. People have been using zinc lozenges for years. Or, chew up a tab. Zycam has been known to cause permanent loss of the sense of smell. Lozenges do not appear to cause the loss of taste...I greatly enjoyed that carrot cake with cream cheese icing just now, and have used the lozenges as needed for years. Sugar-free, of course.

      February 16, 2011 at 18:02 | Report abuse |
  2. Blondegeisha

    It does work,I swear by Zycam

    February 15, 2011 at 22:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • neal kelley

      You are right.. I really does work..

      February 16, 2011 at 08:49 | Report abuse |
  3. Juicy

    I have used Zinc for help with colds and skin issues I swear by its effectivnes.

    February 15, 2011 at 23:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Melinda

    Zicam Cold Remedy Gel Swabs or nasal gel WORKS. It was taken off the market because of a few complaints that it caused a diminished sense of smell. You can get other Zicam applications but they aren't as affective as the gel. It's applied in the nostrils where every rhinovirus (COLD) beings (rhino means nose – so, rhinovirus). You can get it in Canada, though. Pretty sad that such an effective remedy was taken off the shelves. If "zinc supplements can interfere with the body's uptake of other key minerals such as copper and calcium" – all the more reason to use a topically applied zinc substance!

    February 16, 2011 at 00:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • RPh

      Ummm... no. Although you seem to want to trivialize the risk, the FDA removed the nasal gel and spray forms of Zicam because they were found to have the potenital to cause temporary OR PERMANENT LOSS of smell. The FDA went so far as to warn consumers to throw away any product that they might have lying around. If you decide to use zinc, use a lozenge (think hard candy) form, NOT the nasal application. Go ahead and search "Zicam removed from the market" if you want more info, but the giist of it is, don't put zinc in your nose!

      February 16, 2011 at 08:53 | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      I agree with RPh. You're talking about a permanent loss of the sense of smell in these cases.

      February 16, 2011 at 09:55 | Report abuse |
  5. J Gabeldon

    I trried that Zycam junk and it NEVER did one bit of good! What a bunch of bunk! What a waste of money!

    February 16, 2011 at 01:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brad

      I'm no doctor so listen at your own risk, but my understanding is your lymph nodes use a lot of zinc and magnesium when you get sick. I always take a little zinc and magnesium suplement when I get sick. It seems to make a difference.

      February 16, 2011 at 15:10 | Report abuse |
  6. EdG

    Zinc can also be problematic. If you've heard of the issue with denture cream containing zinc, think of the implications for cold remedies. When zinc is overconsumed relative to copper, it produces peripheral neuropathy, i.e. pain and numbness in the arms and legs. This condition will be irreversible if not remedied in time. For best results, keep consumption of zinc cold remedies to a bare minimum, do not use denture creams or hair shampoos containing zinc, and if you take a vitamin, make sure the zinc to copper ratio is 1:1, for example, 100% zinc RDA and 100% copper RDA. Many vitamins contain a 2 or 3 to 1 excess of zinc to copper. Avoid them.

    February 16, 2011 at 02:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MO Pharm

      @ EdG: Your concern is a relative non-issue. While your data may be correct, your advice is inappropriate and inaccurate. There are simply too many problems with your post to address in this reply. Stop using the CNN boards to provide (crappy) medical advice.

      TLDR; you annoy me.

      February 16, 2011 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
    • aninnymouse

      By peripheral neuropathy, aren't you forgetting the brain damage associated with serious overconsumption of zinc?

      February 16, 2011 at 13:38 | Report abuse |
  7. Lisa

    I swear by coldeeze and it's generic form at the first sign of a cold. These lossenges have litterly stopped my colds from develpoing after a few days. I have not had a bad cold for the last four years since taking them.

    February 16, 2011 at 02:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brad

      You know, they say zinc is in nuts, and it seems when I eat penut butter and honey sandwiches, I don't get sick. Also, the honey helps with sore throats if you do get sick, it's an enzyme and can break down bacteria. Indians use to use honey on soars, it would help the wound heal.

      February 16, 2011 at 15:14 | Report abuse |
  8. Ted

    No kidding. Where have you been? This is very old news.

    February 16, 2011 at 04:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. tink

    Its weird that they're just now finding out it works. When I was in high school the school nurse provided zinc for a cold and other reasons as well and it did work. I've been out of high school for 4 years now.

    February 16, 2011 at 06:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. tink

    @ Edg thanks for letting us know how it can be problematic. Its always good to know the other side of things like that!

    February 16, 2011 at 06:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. glo

    It is good research is being conducted. I personally have not been sick with anything in nearly 30 years. I feel that colds is related to lack of vitamin c. I also found that lemons(I haven't seen lots of people that actually have it in their diet) work especially if you have a sore throat. Just thought i would add some tips.

    February 16, 2011 at 06:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Bill

    Zinc along with Vitamin D.

    February 16, 2011 at 07:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Bruce

    I'm a pretty holistic person by nature. Although I've been taking Zinc along with Echinacea at the onset of a cold for years. Usually I take it around dinner time, and when I wake up the next morning I feel fine. It really gives a boost to the immune system. Why has it taken so long for the "experts" to confirm this?

    February 16, 2011 at 07:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. elidude

    This WAS news 15 YEARS AGO!!!!!!

    February 16, 2011 at 08:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Holli

    Zycam works. I use it at the first sign of a cold: the throat tickle, slightly stuffy nose, and I have yet to get a cold in 2 years! This year, people were dropping like flies with a vicious cold around Christmas, and I never got sick. I'm a nurse!

    February 16, 2011 at 08:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Gary M

    Ah, is this suppose to be news?

    February 16, 2011 at 08:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeremy

      obviously yes it's supposed to be news moron...

      February 16, 2011 at 10:51 | Report abuse |
  17. Maddy

    Have not had anything but very mild cold symptoms since I began to take zinc, either Zycam or Cold Eez a number of years ago.
    It certainly worked wonders for the "common cold".
    Zinc can be problematic but one need not take an overdose. It's always possible to get too much of a good thing.

    February 16, 2011 at 08:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Canopy

    Isn't that what Zicam is made from?

    February 16, 2011 at 08:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. The DukeOfHighwayJ

    I have not had a cold of any severity for the last four or five years. I also have not taken any zinc at the onset of mild symptoms. Sometimes mild symptoms is all one gets.

    February 16, 2011 at 08:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Larry Lupus

    This is news?? In other exciting developments scientists determined that the world is indeed round

    February 16, 2011 at 08:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Katie

    Yet another article about nothing. Zinc may work. May not. We don't recommend taking zinc. We're just saying...

    February 16, 2011 at 08:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • runmom

      I can tell you from personal experience, multiple times over ... it does work.

      February 16, 2011 at 09:06 | Report abuse |
    • Rob_in_MN

      Who's we?

      February 16, 2011 at 16:32 | Report abuse |
  22. Jay

    Just getting over a bad cough/cold. Tried Zycam every 3 hours as recommended on the bottle. No reduction in symptoms or length of illness as compared to other colds in the past. Will not waste money on Zycam in the future. What did help with the cough symptoms was Mucinex which seemed to loosen up the phlegm so that it could be coughed up.

    February 16, 2011 at 09:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. runmom

    Duh ... I've been telling my friends for years – if you feel like you're getting a cold, take a zinc tablet (don't bother with the Cold-Eeze lozenges – they're more expensive than a bottle of zince and have a lower potency) and drink green tea. Make sure to take the zinc with food, though or it can make you nauseated.

    February 16, 2011 at 09:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Locker

    Who writes these articles? What do you mean it MAY curb cold symptoms? Zinc based remedies are the ONLY ones approved by the FDA to treat cold symptoms and it's been that way for years. Is CNN just now finding this out?

    February 16, 2011 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Holly


    February 16, 2011 at 09:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Winston

    Don't worry. Whatever you've got, we've got a pill for it. god forbid you have a runny nose for a day. overload your system with supplements for a more natural existence.

    February 16, 2011 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. foxnewsisbetter

    eat lamb a couple times a week instead of beef. its incredibly high in zinc..

    February 16, 2011 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SueRH

      Re: Fox News –


      February 16, 2011 at 14:30 | Report abuse |
  28. Neeneko

    I really wish they had not posted this.
    The problem with zinc is that it is really easy to overdose on.. and what is the first thing people do when presented with an OTC medication? "oh, if 1 tablet makes me feel better, and I need to be chipper for work tomorrow, I'll just take 2!'. Overdose starts at only a few hundred milligrams, and many supplements can have as much as 50!

    February 16, 2011 at 10:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeremy

      And why do you wish they hadn't posted it? If the idiots out there want to overdose on zinc then let them... less morons out there for us to deal with then.

      February 16, 2011 at 10:53 | Report abuse |
    • Steven Barker

      You wish they hadn't reported this since people can overdose, understandable but people can and do the same with other overthecounter stuff, foods and Rx'ed medications too. Only thing to say is that really is their problem and you can't be the behavior police for everyone else although it seems we are trying lately. This is the trouble today that we want to constantly find ways to legislate behavior which in the end just doesn't work. Each individual is responsible for their own actions and they will end up doing what they want anyway. Energy and focus is much better spent on other issues and things in my opinion.

      February 16, 2011 at 11:07 | Report abuse |
  29. DD

    What's wrong with missing a day or two of work/school. Even if you take pills to aleviate symptoms, it doesn't mean you're not contagious and when you are in that phase of the illness....well, you shouldn't be around other people.

    February 16, 2011 at 10:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Bob

    This is news ?
    Zinc has been on the shelves for years.

    February 16, 2011 at 10:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. gcon

    Has anyone ever studied diabetic patients due to the fact they inject themselves daily with insulin that is supsended in Zinc. My brother has been diabetic since he was 6 and now 42. I have never known him to have a bad cold or even the flu. I have met other diabetics in my 20 year nursing career that report the same thing. Has anyone researched this?

    February 16, 2011 at 10:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sara

      Have a sister in law with severe type 1 diabetes and she NEVER gets colds/flu. I am always amazed she does not get sick considering all of the health problems she has otherwise.

      February 16, 2011 at 15:29 | Report abuse |
    • Sara

      Have a sister in law with severe type 1 diabetes and she NEVER gets colds/flu. I am always amazed she does not get sick considering all of the health problems she has otherwise.
      "Is that really the kind of company you want to support with your money?!"
      Do you take prescribed drugs from pharmaceutical companies, do you have any idea how many cover ups they have been in over the years?

      February 16, 2011 at 15:34 | Report abuse |
  32. Tony Zorch

    i have taken zinc lozenges at the onset of cold symptoms for the 15 years or so they have been out. In my own personal case, i have not had a cold that lasted longer than 24 hours since taking them over the past 15 years. Good stuff!

    February 16, 2011 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Dave

    This is nothing new! lol Zycam has been on the market for years.. It really works.

    February 16, 2011 at 10:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. pgar

    Using Zicam nasal gel just one time over three years ago permanently destroyed most of my sense of smell. I have met people who permanently lost all of their sense of smell and some even lost their sense of taste. Now THAT is sad. The worst part is that the company who makes Zicam knew for YEARS that their product could have this effect on people yet they refused to pull it from the shelves.
    Please, if you choose to use zinc remedies, use zinc remedies made by another company.

    February 16, 2011 at 10:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeremy

      or just don't put zinc in your nose... they removed the nasal swabs from the stores already. Zicam makes oral products as well, and they work great.

      February 16, 2011 at 10:55 | Report abuse |
    • pgar

      The company knew that their product was permanently disabling people yet they tried to squash lawsuits and refused to remove their products from the shelves, thereby injuring more people. Imagine it had been your wife or your dad who lost their sense of taste or smell FOREVER. Is that really the kind of company you want to support with your money?!

      February 16, 2011 at 11:43 | Report abuse |
  35. Steven Barker

    I am totally amazed and in fact LMAO about this "new" find. The Germans at least and other Europeans as well have know this for well over 30 years. I have been taking Zinc as a cold and flu preventive for 20 years myself. Just wish this article would have explained why Zinc works since it is a simple concept but if anyone is interested they can search the net. Maybe they didn't do this because they are afraid the cold and flu overthecounter industry would then flop since you don't or wouldn't need all of their products if you didn't get sick.

    February 16, 2011 at 11:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. joe beets

    be careful, i took Zicam product after i came down with a head cold/chest congestion. yes, i was back to "normal" sooner but my sense of taste/smell was gone, that was 4 years ago.

    February 16, 2011 at 11:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. ann

    I swear by Colde Eeze (zinc tablets) I start taking them at the very onset of a cold and my cold is cut down to maybe a day or two at the most!

    February 16, 2011 at 11:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Lou

    For me simply making sure to take enough vitamin D every day (5000 IU) does much better job of PREVENTING cold/flu for the most part. At the very worst, it reduced severity of cold/flu. Majority of us are deficient in vitamin D so that's why we get cold/flu in the first place.

    February 16, 2011 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Realityistru

    Hipprocates said it best: "Let thy food be thy medicine" ... Seriously almost anything can be cured with food... Zinc is an excellent mineral to help cure colds as well as high doses of Vitamin C! 🙂

    February 16, 2011 at 11:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. zinc-girl

    I rub powdered zinc all over my mangina to prevent frequent cold sore outbreaks.

    February 16, 2011 at 11:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Julesa

    I prefer the lozenges. I eat a handful of raw garlic-proven to help in it's raw form, then use the lozenge to mask the odor. Works pretty well.

    February 16, 2011 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Brian

    Garlic is a natural source of zinc.

    February 16, 2011 at 12:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. MEDIA-Blitz

    Thanks CNN....you have just caused the price of good Zinc to go up (2) Fold once demand is stressed.
    Supplements are more effective but should be taken after eating something.

    February 16, 2011 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. oussu

    The clinical efficacy data on zinc and colds is less than convincing. One probable cause of that is what people call the 'common cold' is infact a catch-all for common respiratory virus infections that could be adenovirus, RSV, influenza, etc. The actual infectious agent has never been typed/screened in patients paticipating in efficacy studies of zinc-based treatments, so this greatly convuludes the data. The most likely explanation as to why zinc sometimes appears to show a statistical improvement and sometimes doesn't in duration/symptoms, is that it is effective against a specific virus and less effective or ineffective against others that cause the same general symptomology. Until someone does a highly systematic human clinical study that types the virus that paticipants have prior to administration of treatment, the efficacy of zinc will continue to be anecdotal at best, placebo effect at worst. I work with viruses for a living, and despite my misgivings about zinc, I have used both Coldeezers and Zicam, I and personally still can't tell for sure either.

    February 16, 2011 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. B0z0

    Zycam is the best, having 2 forms of zinc in it.. In chinese medical terms, what it does is strongly strengthen the wei chi in the upper burner preventing the Wind – Cold invasion from taking root. In western terms it really seems to strengthen the immune system enough to beat the virus.. I've had everyone in the house coughing and sneezing and i've been the only one not to get it and the only one taking zycam

    February 16, 2011 at 12:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Andy


    February 16, 2011 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. mike

    I also notice I don't rust as quickly.

    February 16, 2011 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. EricNoot

    I have found that taking zinc supplements is exactly what is needed for colds, though they does not seem to help at all for the flu. So far, I have only had 4 full blown colds in over 12 years, and I work in education, so I'm no hermit. Here's my method

    1.) Zinc supplements typically come in tablets of 50 mg. I take a pair of scissors and cut them into quarters. That makes each quarter tablet on average equal to 12.5 mg, which is less than the last RDA levels of 15 mg for zinc.
    2.) At the first, faint tickle in my nose that I recognize is an early zinc sign, I take a quarter tablet with some food. That prevents the nausea associated with the mineral.
    3.) I do not take it with any citrus fruit or juice. From what I've experience, the citrus negates the zinc's benefit.
    4.) I MAY need a second quarter tablet the next day.

    And that's the whole method. It works so well that I have often felt that I could challenge any doctor to try to give me a cold. They won't succeed, it works that well. Plus a bottle of zinc supplements, taken only rarely lasts for so long because they contain 100 tablets for about $3.25 a bottle. Nothing beats it, hands down!

    February 16, 2011 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. EricNoot

    Sorry, I got a little over eager! On step 2 I meant to say that the tickle is a faint cold sign.

    February 16, 2011 at 13:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Tinkey

    We've been Zycam users in our house since it came out and it was very effective. We were bummed when they took the nasal spray off the market. While I'm sure it did leave some people with loss of smell we never had any problems with it. The lozengers on the other hand were kind of gross so we switched to the nasal swabs. I did notice recently that they sell the spray for "allergies"so I need to do some research and see if it's the same thing.

    February 16, 2011 at 14:02 | Report abuse | Reply
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