Zinc for Colds: Lozenges and Nasal Sprays

You're stuffed up and sneezy and want some relief. If you could even make your cold just a little shorter, you'd be happy. Can zinc make a difference?

Some recent research suggests it may be helpful for reducing the number of upper respiratory infections in children and may reduce the duration of colds in adults.

What Is Zinc?

Zinc is an essential mineral that's found in almost every cell, and it helps your body resist infection. It also plays an important part in tissue repair. And it may lower the ability of cold viruses to grow on or bind to the lining of your nose.

You can buy zinc as a supplement, but it's also found naturally in a number of foods, like:

  • Shellfish
  • Beef and other red meats
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans
  • Milk and cheese

Tea, coffee, and some medicines interfere with the way zinc is absorbed in your intestines.

Does It Work as a Cold Remedy?

Some recent studies show that taking zinc once you have a cold may shorten the duration of your symptoms by about a day and a half.

Other studies show no effect at all. The research is also mixed as to whether taking zinc can help prevent colds.

Is It Safe?

Short-term use in recommended amounts is likely safe, although it may cause an upset stomach. Long-term use -- more than 6 weeks -- can lead to copper deficiency, but this can be overcome by taking almost any multivitamin that contains copper.

Researchers say zinc nasal sprays cause animals to lose their sense of smell. There have been several reports of people having decreased sense of smell or completely losing it. Because of this risk, the FDA issued a warning to stop using several nasal sprays that contain zinc.

Keep in mind that zinc is necessary for your health and safe to take through food such as seafood and eggs. But supplementing with higher doses, particularly for a long time, can be toxic.

What’s the Bottom Line on Zinc and Colds?

Zinc lozenges may help you beat a cold a day or so sooner, but likely won't help you prevent one. Avoid any zinc nasal sprays, because the risks outweigh any benefit you may get.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 06, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Singh, M. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2011.

NIH Office of Dietary Supplements: "Zinc."

American Family Physicians: "Treatment of the Common Cold."

Scientific American: "No proof zinc lozenges help cold symptoms."

US Pharmacist: "Zinc and the Common Cold: What Pharmacists Need to Know."

Medscape: "Efficacy of Zinc Lozenges Against Common Cold Viruses."

Oregon State University, Micronutrient Information Center: "Zinc."

Caruso, T. Clinical Infectious Diseases, Sept. 1, 2007.

Rao, G., Rowland, K. Zinc for the common cold—not if, but when. 2011

Kurugöl, Z. Acta Paediatrica, October 2006.

Wang L, Efficacy of zinc given as an adjunct to the treatment of severe pneumonia: A meta-analysis of randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled trials. May 2017

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