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How to Fight the Common Cold with Zinc

Posted Dec 09 2011 4:28pm

Got a cold?

Yes, there are tons of viruses going around this year. If you haven’t caught one yet, just wait…(sorry!) 

However, when you’re sick with a cold, do you have to suffer in misery? Well, truthfully, your immune system does need to deal with the virus, and that process takes time (typically a week). But does mean there’s nothing you can do to help that poor ol’ overworked immune system of yours?

Here’s something you can do: take zinc.

There’s actually quite a bit of research to back this up. Zinc seems to shorten the duration and severity of the common cold, in otherwise healthy people.

When should you take zinc?

Because most viral replication happens within the first 24 hours of symptom onset, you’re going to get the most benefit from zinc if you start taking it on Day 1. That said, taking it within the first 3 days may still  have benefit.

How much should you take?

Aim for at least 75 mg/day of zinc. The studies showing the most benefit used 75 mg as a minimum dose.

What form should you take?

It seems that contact time with zinc is important. Zinc lozenges appear to be most effective when you dissolve them slowly in your mouth (slowly, here, is sucking on a lozenge for 20-30 minutes), and doing this every 2 hours.

How does zinc work?

The exact mechanism of zinc is unknown, but it’s thought to assist T cells (a subset of white blood cells) which kill virus-infected cells. 

Any potential harm?

Intranasal administration of zinc is not recommended–this has been linked with a loss of the sense of smell, which can be permanent. Yikes. And don’t overdo it with zinc. Large doses (more than 300 mg per day) can compete with copper and manganese absorption, and can interfere with T-cell function. It can also chelate some antibiotics and cause drug-drug interactions.

What about using zinc for prevention?

Yep, it seems to be helpful for that, too. Supplementary zinc taken on a daily basis appears to help prevent pesky colds from striking in the first place. In studies, children receiving supplements for at least 5 months had fewer colds and fewer absentee days from school.

I’ve recommended zinc to patients for quite some time now, and I personally use it, whenever I start to feel those first inklings of a sore throat. If you start taking it early enough, you can really knock that cold flat. Before it does that to you.


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