The next time you feel a cold coming on, you might want to reach for some zinc. A review published in The Cochrane Systematic Review on Tuesday showed that zinc supplements may provide a helpful alternative to simply sniffling and suffering your way through a common cold.
Researchers reviewed 15 double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials that involved a total of 1,360 people. They found that taking zinc within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms could both shorten the duration and reduce the severity of a cold. People who used zinc were also less likely to have a cold that lasted more than seven days. They even found that zinc may have preventive properties: When zinc supplements were taken for at least five months, it reduced cold incidence, school absenteeism, and the use of prescription of antibiotics in children.
The study’s researchers were hesitant to make a general recommendation for optimum dose and formulation saying that more studies are needed. Critics of the review have pointed out that the study subjects took large amounts of zinc–anywhere from 9mg to 23 mg every 90 minutes during waking hours. One Medical Group naturopath Alex Tan says that for patient safety, don’t take more than 40 mg of zinc per day on an ongoing basis. But for short-term use (14 days or fewer), increasing your zinc intake as described in the studies is reasonable.