Zinc supplements reduce the average cold by about a day and also make symptoms less severe, according to the latest findings.
There's no cure for the common cold, but there's no shortage of ways to treat the symptoms. For a number of years there's been a lot of interest in zinc supplements - lozenges or syrup - but the scientific evidence of their value was inconclusive. Now, a review of the research finds recent studies have tipped the balance.
That's the conclusion of a review combining the results of 15 different studies done over more than a decade. The analysis was published by the Cochrane Collaboration.
"The bottom line is that if you want to decrease the number of days that you'll have a cold, zinc lozenges or syrup probably work," says Kay Dickersin, U.S. director of the Cochrane Collaboration. "And it works for kids or adults. That's the main message."
The Cochrane experts say that a medication that is even just partly effective at reducing the length or severity of a cold can help ease symptoms and reduce the significant economic costs of colds.
According to Dickersin, the studies show zinc supplements also reduce the likelihood of catching a cold.
"For those who didn't have a cold to start with, fewer people got the cold if they were taking zinc," she says. "There was a decrease in school absences, there was a decrease in people taking antibiotics."
That last point is important because, not only are antibiotics generally useless against a cold, but their overuse can promote the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.