August 2013

Zinc May Help Reduce Duration of Common Cold

Taking zinc within 24 hours of experiencing symptoms may help shorten the length of the common cold in healthy people, a study reports.

The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory system, which may involve the nose, throat and sinuses. Colds are one of the leading causes of doctor visits and missed days from school and work. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 22 million school days are lost annually in the United States as a result of the common cold. Over the course of a year, people in the United States suffer one billion colds, according to some estimates. Americans spend about $2.9 billion on over-the-counter (OTC) drugs in addition to $400 million on prescription medicines annually for the symptomatic relief from colds. It is estimated that the average person contracts more than 50 colds during a lifetime. Anyone can get a cold, although pre-school and grade school children catch them more frequently than adolescents and adults.

The current study evaluated the effects of zinc on common cold duration. Based on available scientific evidence, zinc may be effective for the treatment or management of a number of conditions, including diarrhea in malnourished children, skin conditions (such as acne vulgaris, eczema, and psoriasis), gastric ulcers, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), immune disorders, sickle cell anemia, leg ulcers, infertility, Wilson's disease, herpes, taste or smell disorders, diabetes, and diabetic neuropathy.

Researchers set out to assess whether zinc may be effective in reducing the severity and duration of common cold symptoms. They searched through the available literature for high-quality trials that used zinc for at least five consecutive days to treat the common cold, or for at least five months to prevent the common cold.

The authors reported that zinc intake was associated with a significant reduction in the duration of the common cold, but lacked effect on symptom severity. After seven days of zinc treatment, there were significantly fewer people who had symptoms compared to those in the control group. Additionally, zinc appeared to decrease school absence, prescription for antibiotics and the risk of developing a cold. The researchers reported that overall side effects, bad taste and nausea were higher in the zinc group.

The authors concluded that zinc may help reduce the duration of common cold symptoms in healthy people. However, the authors noted that there is significant variation in the data. More research is needed in order to confirm these findings.

Numerous integrative therapies have been studied for possible benefit in preventing and/or treating the common cold or related conditions. There is strong scientific evidence supporting the use of andrographis, caffeine and umckloabo for this purpose.

For more information about zinc, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements Database.


  1. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 
  2. Singh M, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jun 18;6:CD001364. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001364.pub4. 

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