February 16th, 2011
As everyone knows, there’s no cure for the common cold. So most people simply suffer through two or more colds a year, often missing days of work or school in the process.
Scientists still haven’t found a cure, but a new expert review suggests that taking zinc supplements may help ease cold symptoms—and may even prevent the viral infections altogether.
Nearly 30 years of research on zinc and colds has had mixed results and has been marred by iffy studies. To get a sound big-picture assessment of zinc’s benefits, researchers in India sifted through the evidence and analyzed 15 randomized controlled trials—the “gold standard” in medical research—that compared zinc with placebo for the prevention or treatment of the common cold.
When they compiled the evidence, the researchers found that healthy adults and children who took zinc syrup, lozenges, or tablets within 24 hours of their first cough or sniffle experienced shorter and less severe colds than the participants who took a zinc-free placebo. Taking zinc reduced the odds that a person would still be experiencing symptoms at the seven-day mark by more than half.
Zinc—a mineral that occurs naturally in nuts, seeds, meats, fruits, and vegetables—also appeared to help prevent colds. Study participants who took zinc syrup or lozenges daily for at least five months cut their chances of developing a cold by about one-third, on average. As a result, the children in those studies who took zinc missed fewer days of school and took fewer antibiotics than their peers.
“These findings don’t surprise me. We’re learning that zinc can be quite helpful,” says David Rakel, MD, director of integrative medicine at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who was not involved in the review. “We know it is an important mineral for immune function and that it can inhibit the replication of some viruses.”
Zinc supplements do carry some potential risks. Some of the study participants experienced nausea and a bad taste in their mouths while taking zinc, for instance. And zinc supplements can interfere with the body’s uptake of other key minerals such as copper and calcium, Dr. Rakel says.
The authors of the review, which was published in the Cochrane Library, stopped short of recommending over-the-counter zinc supplements. Because the studies included in the review were so varied, they wrote, it wasn’t possible to identify an ideal dose, a formulation, or a schedule for taking zinc.
Still, Dr. Rakel says, “zinc looks pretty promising. We need to take precautions, particularly with long-term use, but I’d still recommend it to my patients at the first sign of cold symptoms.”
January 14th, 2011
NY Daily News
By: Rosemary Black
At the first sign of the sniffles, are you tearing open a fizzy packet of Emergen-C? Or drinking steaming cup after cup of echinacea tea?
All that vitamin C and herbal supplementing may not be doing you any good when it comes to fighting a cold.
But it depends who you ask.
Dr. Seth Feltheimer of New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center told the Daily News there have been no consistently positive studies for Vitamin C or echinacea.
“As much as I would like to say they would work, I can’t.”
Echinacea offers cold comfort when it comes to preventing sneezes and sniffles. In fact, the herbal remedy touted as a way to prevent colds had only “minimal effects,” according to a study from the American College of Physicians.
The echinacea tablets did not reduce the severity of cold symptoms and only shortened the duration of the cough by seven to 20 hours – a “statistically insignificant result,” according to the researchers.
The study concluded that in most instances, popping echinacea was not “worthwhile.”
But Joy Lindquist, the wellness coordinator of Long Island College Hospital’s cancer center, says vitamin C and echinacea work if taken at the very first sign of a cold.
“The reason they don’t work in some people is that they are rundown,” she says. “If you have a poor diet and aren’t taking care of yourself and getting enough rest, don’t expect it to work.”
Lindquist recommends six to eight echinacea tablets per day, along with 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C. She does not recommend megadoses of C. “You can only absorb so much,” Lindquist says. “And if you take too much, it gives you the runs.”
Lenox Hill Hospital ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Jordan S. Josephson believes taking vitamins can help reduce a cold’s severity but says the jury is still out on whether they’re effective. “More in depth studies are needed,” he says.
His remedy for preventing a cold is prevention: eat right, get plenty of sleep, and take a multivitamin.
“In this season especially, it is important to stay well rested,” Josephson says. “It’s also important to stay well hydrated so drink a lot of water.”
As for the alcohol you may feel is practically a God-given right at holiday time? “Alcohol is very dehydrating,” Josephson says.
One other supplement to try? Zinc, advises Feltheimer.
“There may be some evidence that zinc tablets can shorten the duration of a cold,” he says. “But the zinc tablets taste terrible and can cause diarrhea, nausea and flatulence.”