News - Study finds zinc effective in fighting colds
At the first sign of a cold, sneezing and sniffling Brits will turn to over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs in an attempt to reduce their symptoms. Unfortunately, the majority of them do not have a track record for effectiveness that inspires great confidence and at best they will only mask the symptoms. It is little wonder, then, that people will seek other natural solutions.
A recent review reported on BBC Breakfast News, of the available scientific evidence on zinc, suggests that cold sufferers may finally have a better option than just a box of tissues and a hot bowl of chicken soup. According to a study published in The Cochrane Library (a collection of databases providing the best available evidence about the effects of healthcare) zinc lozenges, tablets or syrups taken within 24 hours of the first sign of a runny nose or sore throat, can cut the length of the common cold by an average of a day or more, and reduce its severity. After seven days, more of the patients who took zinc had fought off their cold symptoms compared to those who took ‘placebos’ (dummy tablets).
The Cochrane reviewers analysed data from 15 randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, involving 1,360 healthy participants of all age groups. There was enough data to ensure that findings were statistically significant. All the studies compared zinc use with a placebo. When the data was pooled, the effect shown was strong. The review found that not only did zinc reduce the severity and length of the common cold, but children who took zinc on a regular basis caught fewer colds, leading to a reduction in the number of days absent from school and less antibiotic use.
Zinc is an essential nutrient that appears to play a key role in keeping the immune system healthy. While it is not certain how zinc may affect colds, it appears to have antiviral properties that prevent the rhinovirus (a major cause of the common cold) from replicating or attaching to nasal cells. It may also inhibit the release of histamine, which can cause sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes.
Lead researcher Dr Meenu Singh, of the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, said: ”This review strengthens the evidence for zinc as a treatment for the common cold. However, at the moment, it is still difficult to make a general recommendation, because we do not know very much about the optimum dose, formulation or length of treatment.”
Dr Singh also stressed: ”Our review only looked at zinc supplementation in healthy people. But it would be interesting to find out whether zinc supplementation could help asthmatics, whose asthma symptoms tend to get worse when they catch a cold.”
Although more research needs to be done, particularly in low-income countries where zinc deficiency may be prevalent, the results of this new review are a tantalising suggestion of how zinc could help fight the common cold.
Singh M, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold (Review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD001364. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001364.pub3