A review of data from 15 trials suggests that the zinc supplements so many Americans pop at the first sign of a cold may, in fact, cut the length and severity of illness.
The review, conducted by a team in India and published in the Cochrane Library, found that zinc might help shorten the time people have to stay away from work or school.
Despite the popularity of zinc supplements, controversy over their effectiveness has raged since a much-publicized 1984 study first suggested a cold-limiting effect. Since then, the data has been mixed.
In the new analysis, lead researcher Meenu Singh, MD, of the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, and his team looked over data on more than 1360 people. They found that zinc-taken as syrup, lozenges or tablets within 24 hours of symptom onset--did reduce the duration and severity of illness. And by a week after onset, more people who took zinc said their cold had resolved versus those who had not, the report found.
Children who took the syrup or the lozenges for five months or more also experienced fewer colds and missed fewer school days, the analysis found. They also needed fewer antibiotics.
"This review strengthens the evidence for zinc as a treatment for the common cold," said Dr. Singh. "However, at the moment, it is still difficult to make a general recommendation, because we do not know very much about the optimum dose, formulation or length of treatment.
"Our review only looked at zinc supplementation in healthy people," Dr. Singh stressed. "But it would be interesting to find out whether zinc supplementation could help asthmatics, whose asthma symptoms tend to get worse when they catch a cold."
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