Zinc for colds
Can zinc help shorten the length of a cold? Some research suggests it can.
Zinc is an essential mineral that's found in shellfish, meat, dairy foods, bread and cereals. Zinc is also available in vitamin supplements and lozenges.
A 2011 review of evidence from 15 published studies involving 1,360 people found that zinc supplements reduced the duration and severity of illness caused by the common cold.
However, the researchers said it was still not possible to make any general recommendations about treating colds with zinc, because more information was needed about the optimum dose, formulation and length of treatment.
Another review of evidence from other studies in 2012 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal also found that taking zinc tablets may shorten the duration of a cold.
The research reviewed 14 studies involving 2,121 people.
People taking zinc had cold symptoms for an average of between 1 to 2 days less than people given a dummy or ( placebo) treatment.
Higher doses of zinc seemed to reduce the duration of symptoms better than low doses. However, zinc did not seem to help shorten colds in children.
Large high quality trials would be needed to check whether the benefits of zinc outweigh side effects.
Is zinc safe for colds?
As long as you follow directions on zinc products, and don’t have more than is recommended, zinc should be safe to use. Seek medical advice or ask a pharmacist if you have concerns.
The official UK recommendation is to take no more than 25mg of zinc a day.
In the short-term, too much zinc can cause nausea and a bad taste in the mouth - and in the longer term, anaemia and weakened bones.