We learned a while ago that vitamin C is not the savior from colds. But what about zinc, that other supplement in the cold remedy arsenal?
Winter Is Coming
Right now you may still enjoy the last rays of warmth a late summer or early fall sun sends your way, but it won’t last.
Evenings will start earlier, paper tissues become a frequent companion and the frequency of cold remedy ads on TV goes from non-existent to ever-present.
Lately those ads mention a supplement that’s supposed to really do something. Especially compared to vitamin C, that in the last years got some bad rap for being useless against colds in particular and sometimes counterproductive in general.
We of course talk about zinc. And it may really help you with your cold, but could still be a bad idea.
Yes, Zinc Works…
Some years ago the people behind the Cochrane Review (the gold standard of evaluating scientific research) looked at the available literature on zinc combating colds.
I won’t be ashamed to say that to my surprise they found that zinc really does something (PDF). Put it in a petri dish loaded with flu viruses and it kills them all. Mix the viruses with vitamin C and the two groups would just hold a get-to-know-you evening.
Not only that, in practical and real day-to-day life people who received zinc supplements within 24 hours after a cold infection also reduced their time under a cold spell by an entire day.
…But May Still Not Be A Good Idea
After weeks, months, years of telling you that supplements are useless, expensive and sometimes lethal, do I have one I can wholeheartedly recommend to you? Because it has solid scientific evidence behind it, sanctioned by the grandmasters of science reviews?
Not quite. Remember I said that zinc kills viruses it’s introduced to in a petri dish. The trouble is, it also kills everything else in there, including the good and useful bacteria that protect you. Using zinc against colds is a bit like using Agent Orange against the lice that invaded your rose bushes.
The other big problem with zinc is that people it saved from a day of misery got a bad bargain in exchange. The Cochrane review noted that nausea was a constant companion for many of those participating in zinc trials.
Worth Is In The Eye Of The User
I’ll ride the Game of Thrones bit a bit more: brace yourself, for winter is coming. But, if you decide to supplement it, also brace yourself for the side effects of zinc. I’m not sure if having one day less of a cold is worth the nausea or the potential of upsetting the rest of your immune system.
Your mileage of course may vary, but I reckon that at least constant supplementing of high zinc doses is not a good idea.
Picture courtesy of Ashley Sturgis.