Relief from annoying symptoms
Colds are responsible for at least 62 million doctors' visits every year. That's why scientists have been searching for centuries to find a cure.
While zinc may not be a miracle cure, it might provide quicker relief from symptoms or help keep you from getting a cold in the first place.
How it works
Your body contains a small amount of zinc. This trace mineral works with proteins in every organ and helps enzymes do their jobs.
And that's not all -- getting enough of this vital nutrient keeps your immune system healthy. A strong immune system protects you from infections and viruses -- like colds and flu.
People with low zinc levels have fewer T-cells, which identify and destroy harmful substances in your body, like bacteria and viruses. Not having enough T-cells increases your susceptibility to infections. when people with a zinc deficiency raise their zinc levels, T-cell levels increase as well.
Foils viruses two ways
Research on the effectiveness of zinc for colds falls into two categories -- the study of topical treatments, like lozenges and nasal sprays and gels, for those who already have a cold, and the study of how getting enough in your diet influences your health.
Some studies show that zinc whips colds, but others aren't so favorable. Several factors seem to influence the results, like the form of zinc you take (zinc gluconate, zinc acetate, zinc sulfate, zinc citrate, or zinc picolinate), how much you take, how you take it (topically or as a supplement), and whether or not those who were studied had a zinc deficiency to begin with.
You don't take topical treatments to increase your body's zinc level. You use them to interfere with viruses in your nose and throat where colds begin. Numerous studies on the effectiveness of topical zinc have shown positive results, as long as zinc gluconate or acetate is used -- the best results coming from zinc gluconate. Zinc sulfate hasn't done so well in those tests.
In one study, 213 people just coming down with a cold used one squirt of a zinc gluconate nasal gel or placebo in each nostril every four hours during the day. the people who used the zinc nasal gel recovered in about two days, compared to nine days for those using the placebo.
According to another study, if you take zinc at the first sign of colds or flu, your symptoms may be gone within 24 hours.
Other studies involved zinc's influence on the immune system. Researchers discovered that consuming extra zinc during the cold and flu season actually helps prevent illness. People who took zinc supplements during the cold and flu season came down with fewer colds than those who didn't.
It's not difficult to get enough zinc from the food you eat. If you like to eat oysters, you should be getting plenty of zinc. Not an oyster lover ? Zinc is also found in other seafood, as well as red meat, poultry, legumes, and whole grains.
However, if you're one of the estimated 90 percent of healthy elderly people who don't get enough zinc, supplements may be the answer.
Before deciding to supplement with zinc, consider how much you are getting in your diet. you can get too much zinc. In fact, consuming more than you need can impair your immunity, irritate your stomach, and cause vomiting and other serious side effects. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for men age 51 or older is 11 milligrams a day. For women age 51 or older, it's 8 mg.
Zinc supplements combine elemental zinc with other substances. When choosing a supplement, check the amount of elemental zinc listed on the label, since that's what your body uses. An 80-mg supplement of zinc gluconate might contain only 10 mg of elemental zinc.
To relieve sore throats and other cold symptoms, many experts say it's safe to use zinc lozenges -- sparingly. Don't overdo it. Some people take higher and higher doses to achieve relief, which could cause a zinc overdose.
When buying lozenges, look for a form of zinc called zinc gluconate glycine, which is easily released when you suck on the lozenge.