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You know the feeling: scratchy throat, a few more sneezes than normal, and a weird tiredness that threatens to send you to bed before 10 p.m.. The beginning of a cold is never fun, especially if you have lots of things to get done the next day, but could a natural supplement really be the key to keeping cold symptoms at bay?
What Is Zinc?
Zinc is found naturally in the human body and helps with our immune system and our metabolism functioning. It also helps to heal wounds and is connected to our sense of smell and taste. Most of us get enough zinc through the foods we eat, but zinc supplements are easy to find at any drug or health store.
Can Zinc Fight Off Colds?
Holistic medicine has long touted zinc supplementation as one of the best ways to cure a cold. Interestingly enough, a 2017 analysis of seven studies involving zinc and the common cold found that study participants who took zinc lozenges reduced the length of their colds by 33 percent.
An older review from 2011 of 13 studies involving zinc as a cold remedy also found “strong evidence” of a positive effect on cold duration.
What can we take from these reviews? After getting the OK from your doctor, taking zinc supplements at the first sign of a cold may help reduce the amount of time you’re dealing with symptoms. In general, the scientific community recommends supporting immune health with an approach that includes a balanced and nutrient-rich diet, taking supplements—especially the elderly with a challenged nutritional status—and making optimized lifestyle choices.1
Part of the reason why zinc showed positive results in those studies is because zinc is a great supplement in supporting your immune system. Zinc decreases the rate in which a virus can duplicate inside your body.2 Zinc also supports cell development and function.3
Anecdotal evidence and some studies have shown that zinc may impact the outcome of COVID-19. That being said, recent randomized controlled clinical trials have not shown that zinc has sped up recovery from COVID-19.5
Side Effects of Zinc Supplements
While zinc supplements are generally well tolerated, they can cause headache, nausea, vomiting, and even diarrhea, so it’s best to consult with your doctor before adding them to your regimen. Zinc can also have an interaction with certain antibiotics.
Taking too much zinc can have damaging consequences on your body as well.4 Even without taking supplements, you can find zinc in a variety of foods like oysters, crabs, lobsters, red meat, beans, and whole grains.4 If you take additional zinc supplements along with eating those foods, you risk intaking too much zinc.
Over a long period of time, too much zinc can decrease how much copper your body retains, make your cholesterol too low, and weaken your immunity.4 These health deficiencies can cause neurological issues and numbness in your limbs.4
People younger than 19 years of age have lower recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for zinc.4 The recommended daily amount (RDA) of zinc is 8 milligrams (mg) for adult women and 11 mg for adult men.6 The daily limits include zinc from foods, drinks, and any supplements you or your children might take.
The Bottom Line
Taking zinc at the first sign of a cold may help shorten the length of it, but zinc doesn’t bring relief from a cold’s annoying symptoms. For that, you need a product like Theraflu Daytime Severe Cold & Cough Hot Liquid Powder.
You can also learn about other at-home remedies you can practice that will help you get the nutrients you need while lowering your risk in getting a cold or flu. Improving your diet, getting enough sleep, and cleaning your home may help you reduce the chances of you getting sick and your family getting sick.
1. Calder PC. Nutrition, immunity and COVID-19. Br Med J. 2020;3(1):74-92.
2. Does Zinc Help Fight the Coronavirus? The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine. https://www.nationalacademies.org/based-on-science/covid-19-zinc Accessed on 5/25/21.
3. Effect of Zinc on Immune Cells. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2277319/ Accessed on 5/25/21.
4. Zinc Fact Sheet for Consumers. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-Consumer/. Accessed on 5/25/21.
5. Naturals Medicines Research Collaboration. (2021, March). COVID-19-19: First Clinical Trials on Zinc, Vitamin C, Vitamin D. Retrieved from https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/news/news-items/starnaturalmedicines-and-covid-19star/covid-19-first-clinicaltrials-on-zinc,-vitamin-c,-vitamin-d.aspx.
6. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, March 26). Zinc. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/.