Zinc Supplements and the Common Cold
In June of 2013, the Cochrane Collaboration updated their meta-analysis of double-blinded, placebo-controlled randomized controlled trials testing whether zinc is useful in treating or preventing the common cold (1).
Their analysis included 16 trials for treating colds, with a total of 1,387 participants. Intake of zinc was associated with a significant reduction in the duration of the cold, reducing it by about one day. It did not show a benefit in reducing the severity of the symptoms.
Of the 16 trials, 11 showed benefit for zinc, while the others did not. The authors reported that trials showing no benefit have been criticized for using too little zinc or a form that is not bioavailable. (Zinc gluconate is a good choice for bioavailability; more on that in a future post.)
The analysis also included two preventive trials with a total of 394 participants. Both studies found a statistically significant benefit from zinc supplementation with the combined incidence of developing a cold reduced by 36% (0.64, 0.47-0.88).
As for how zinc helps treat or prevent colds, the authors had a few explanations. Zinc ions have an affinity for the receptor sites where the cold virus (rhinovirus) attaches to the nasal passages. It can bind both to the virus and to the nasal passages, thus blocking the ability of the virus to attach. Zinc might also prevent the formation of virus proteins, stabilize cell membranes, prevent histamine release, and inhibit prostaglandin metabolism.
The authors suggest treating a cold with 75 mg of zinc per day. They did not give an amount for preventing colds.
I have written before about the idea that some vegans might benefit from a zinc supplement for immune function and wound healing (see the VeganHealth.org article Zinc). A side benefit of zinc supplementation is that it can prevent cadmium absorption (see the Zinc and Alzheimer’s Disease section of the VeganHealth.org article Cadmium).
Personally, I have taken zinc for a number of years now and I have never had so few colds; those I’ve had have lasted less than a day rather than the usual week. So, whether it is a placebo or a coincidence, I continue to take zinc religiously, in two daily doses of 3.75 mg (as part of a Trader Joe’s calcium, magnesium, and zinc supplement).
1. Singh M, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jun 18;6:CD001364. | link