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You Ask, I Answer: Zinc and the Common Cold

Posted Nov 13 2009 10:02pm

I really liked your post on Airborne. It was very enlightening!What about the zinc lozenges that supposedly are good to take when you have a cold? Are those also not worth it?

– Ashley L.
Rockford, IL

Over-the-counter zinc remedies have risen in popularity over the past few years. At any given drugstore, you can buy lozenges, nasal sprays, dissolvable tablets, and even nasal gels (think a medicated QTip inserted into your nose for approximately ten seconds).

Zinc is an important immunity-boosting mineral. Best sources include pumpkin seeds, peanuts, brown rice, beef, wheat germ, almonds, pork, oats, quinoa, lentils and barley.

If your diet is generally low in zinc and other nutrients linked with a healthy immune system, you can certainly expect to catch more colds — and recover less quickly — than someone with a well-rounded diet.

I now eat much healthier than I did five years ago. Not surprisingly, I get sick a lot less often (and, when I do, I am back on my feet much faster than before). I do not take multi-vitamins, supplements, or amino acids. I simply eat real food that contains the nutrients I need.

Is it accurate, then, to assume that taking extra zinc when our nose is drippy and our throat is scratchy will have us back in tip top shape in no time?

Studies on the efficacy of zinc remedies provide mixed results.

Some suggest these products help shorten the duration and intensity of a cold, others conclude they perform no differently then a placebo.

Meanwhile, a recent study conducted at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlotesville — and published in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases — argues that while zinc lozenges are futile against the common cold, zinc nasal gels might prove helpful.

The reason? The cold virus thrives in our nose. By coming directly in contact with zinc, its strength and ability to replicate appears to be negatively impacted.

On the flip side, some users of zinc-based nasal gels and sprays have experienced long-lasting anosmia (loss of smell) as a result of using these products.

Best bets once you have a cold? Rest and make sure to drink liquids often and throughout the day.

I also don’t see anything wrong with taking a decongestant or cough medicine, if necessary.

As much as I believe people tend to almost instinctively reach for a pill upon the slightest of symptoms, I also think there are instances where standard medicine certainly provides more benefits than problems.

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