Study Confirms Benefits of Zinc for Cold Relief

February 22, 2011
Laura Enderle, Assistant Editor

New research bolsters the case for zinc supplements as a treatment for the common cold.

As cold season rages on, a new study offers a glimmer of hope for the sneezing, stuffy-nosed masses: zinc really can help. Based on their systematic review of studies dating back to 1984, researchers reported in The Cochrane Library that taking zinc supplements cuts the severity and duration of cold symptoms.

The findings contradict a consensus reached by Cochrane researchers over a decade ago, which equated zinc’s benefits to that of placebo. The latest study incorporates data from several recent trials, nearly doubling the total number of placebo-controlled, double-blind studies to 15 and increasing the number of participants to 1360.

Lead investigator Meenu Singh, of the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, and colleagues found that patients who took zinc syrup, lozenges, or tablets within 24 hours of symptom onset reduced the length of their illness by approximately a day.

The study also outlined the potential of long-term zinc supplementation to reduce the burden of disease in schools and workplaces. Children who took zinc for at least 5 months caught fewer colds than those who took placebos. They were also less likely to be absent from school or use antibiotics.

“This review strengthens the evidence for zinc as a treatment for the common cold,” Dr. Singh said in a Cochrane news release. Because the study involved a wide range of dosage forms and quantities, however, the researchers were not able to reach a conclusion about exactly how much zinc patients should take.

“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 concluded. For a list of pharmacist-recommended OTC cold medications, including zinc supplements, visit www.OTCguide.net.

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • Chain Pharmacies Named Customer Service Champs
  • Senate Bill to Tackle Worsening Drug Shortages