Should you fight the common cold with zinc?

June 18, 2012
Volume 3    |   Issue 46

I hate summer colds. Add a cough, sore throat, and the sniffles to the heat and humidity, and you have a recipe for real discomfort. Many will tell you to pop a zinc lozenge in your mouth to shorten the cold. But a new study says that may not be the best way to fight it.

According to the study, zinc does indeed shorten the duration of a cold. As I’ll show you in a moment, some types of zinc work better than others. But this study went on to say that the zinc may cause side effects.

The researchers in this study compiled 17 different studies, with a total of 2,121 participants, and evaluated their zinc use. All of the studies compared those who took zinc by mouth with a placebo or no treatment at all.

Those participants who took the zinc saw their cold symptoms disappear faster than those who received placebo. But this was true only of adults. Children did not see their symptoms lessen. And all of them, adults and children, experienced side effects, such as nausea and bad taste, when they took the zinc.

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“Bad taste?” Is that really a side effect? I’d much rather have a “bad taste” in my mouth for a little while than cold symptoms, so I’m not sure that one counts. Nausea is another matter. Obviously, if zinc gives you nausea, you should avoid it.

But otherwise, why not use zinc to fight cold symptoms? The researchers confirmed it shortens the duration of symptoms. So I’ll still use it when I get a cold. But how much and the kind of zinc you use can make a big difference in how quickly it gets rid of your symptoms.

My friend and colleague, Frank Shallenberger, MD, found a study from 1984 that said you have to take at least 75 mg of zinc per day in order to have any results. In other words, if you take less than that, it won’t help at all!

They also found that the most effective forms of zinc were zinc acetate and zinc gluconate. The zinc acetate was the most effective. But here’s the catch (and possibly the reason some studies say zinc doesn’t work): The researchers in this study found that other forms of zinc (such as citrate, glycinate, and tartrate) didn’t work at all. And any lozenges containing palm kernel and cotton seed oils were also ineffective.

So if you have a cold and want to take zinc, make sure you take the acetate or gluconate forms. Acetate is extremely difficult to find. So you’ll probably have to settle for gluconate. But it’s still an extremely effective form. You can find it in most health food stores or online.

Your insider for better health,

Steve Kroening

Steve Kroening is the editor of Nutrient Insider, a twice-a-week email newsletter that brings you the latest healing breakthroughs from the world of nutrition and dietary supplements. For over 20 years, Steve has worked hand-in-hand with some of the nation's top doctors, including Drs. Robert Rowen, Frank Shallenberger, Nan Fuchs, William Campbell Douglass, and best-selling author James Balch. Steve is the author of the book Practical Guide to Home Remedies. As a health journalist, Steve's articles have appeared in countless magazines, blogs, and websites.


Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine.

Science M, Johnstone J, Roth DE, et al. Zinc for the treatment of the common cold: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. CMAJ. 2012 May 7.

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