Next time you catch a cold, consider taking zinc. A sweeping review of the medical research on zinc shows that we finally have a better option than chicken soup. According to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews if you take zinc lozenges, tablets or syrups within 24 hours of the first runny nose or sore throat, you can cut your cold short by an average of a day and sharply reduce the severity of symptoms.
In some of the cited studies, the benefits of zinc were significant. A March 2008 report in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, for example, found that zinc lozenges cut the duration of colds to four days from seven days, and reduced coughing to two days from five.
The review also found that regular zinc use prevented colds, and people who used zinc were also far less likely to have a cold that lasted more than a week.
Before you hit the drugstore, there’s one problem. The study offered no guidance on what type of zinc product to buy, and how much to take.
Some experts say that many over-the-counter zinc products may not be as effective as those studied by researchers because they are made with different formulations and binders that can alter the effectiveness of the treatment.
Even so, the new report gives credence to the long-debated theory that zinc can be an effective treatment for colds. It’s not clear how, but zinc appears to have antiviral properties that prevent the cold virus from replicating or attaching to nasal membranes.