Zinc and the Common Cold, Common Cold Remedies

April 22, 2015
Common Cold | Physician One

Zinc has gained notoriety in recent years, thanks to studies that suggest it may help fight the common cold. That said, before you start gobbling handfuls of this essential trace element, understand the risks associated with over-consumption.
Is it Really Helpful?
Some studies suggest zinc can shorten the duration of a cold when taken at the first signs of illness. While it's not clear why this occurs, researchers believe the mineral may hamper viral replication. At the same time, there's no evidence indicating zinc has the ability to prevent infection, so don't bother taking extra unless you're showing symptoms of illness.
How Much Is Too Much?
Consuming too much zinc can cause a myriad of problems. A single dose of up to 50 milligrams can cause nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, headaches, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Extremely large doses can result in poisoning symptoms, such as no urine production, shortness of breath, low blood pressure, convulsions and shock. To avoid problems, it's best to take no more than 40 mg of zinc in a single day.
How Should I Take It?
To avoid potential risks, it's best to choose zinc lozenges over other options. In 2009 the FDA warned against using zinc gel sprays and nasal swabs after reports showed 130 people lost their senses of smell after using these products. While zinc nasal sprays are no longer available, throat sprays are. Unfortunately, there is some risk of these sprays entering the nasal passages from the rear, so it's best to err on the side of caution and opt for lozenges instead.
When choosing a lozenge, make sure it provides enough zinc to make an impact. Generally, the product should contain from 13 and 23 milligrams. Many brands contain much less, so check the label before making a purchase.
The Limitations of Common Cold Remedies
While zinc may shorten the duration of a cold and/or reduce its severity, the mineral isn't a cure. Likewise, it cannot prevent you from contracting an infection, even if you take it every day. To minimize your risk of getting sick, employ practical day-to-day steps that reduce your exposure to virus and bacteria particles. These include washing your hands thoroughly several times a day; using hand sanitizer often; avoiding people who demonstrate cold symptoms and eating a healthy, nutritious diet that will keep your immune system functioning at its best.

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