By Jonny Lupsha, Current Events Writer
Among the benefits of taking zinc, one of them is shortening cold duration, NPR reported. While many home remedies have proven false over the years and zinc isn’t a cure-all, it definitely helps fight colds. Thirty-five years of studies support the claim.
The common cold has annoyed humanity as long as humans have walked the Earth. Whenever we get sick, someone is always quick to recommend vitamins C and D, echinacea, chicken soup, hot toddies, drinking hot water with lemon, gargling with salt water, and more. There seem to be as many home remedies as there are ways to get sick. Of all these recommendations—many of which have been debunked or proven to be placebos—zinc has stood the test of time. According to the NPR article, zinc isn’t a guarantee or a miracle cure, but it shortens the duration of cold symptoms more than enough times to be regarded as legitimate. Even so, it’s best to review the healthful properties of zinc from a skeptic’s perspective.
A 2011 article in The Telegraph stated that “A review of 15 clinical trials published since 1984 has concluded that taking supplements can reduce the length of a cold and help ward one off in the first place.”
It seems that we hear major claims about health every time we open a newspaper or get on the internet. In fact, we hear so many of them that it’s easy to develop a major skepticism for these stories, or even an attitude of “the boy who cried wolf.” So why should, or shouldn’t we, believe the Telegraph article, which seems to be yet another claim about how zinc fights the common cold?
“Their source is the Cochrane collaboration, which is a non-profit, non-industry-sponsored group that looks objectively at published studies, often combining them into reviews to get the best overall assessment of a medical intervention,” said Dr. Roy Benaroch, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine. “This is a solid source, so we’re off to a good start here.”
The Scientific Approach
The Telegraph article then mentioned a comparison of people with colds who took zinc and people with colds who took a placebo. Having a control group and variable test groups in a scientific experiment is a must to be scientifically valid, while also differentiating between coincidence and a cause-and-effect observation.
“These sound like good, meaningful endpoints, and they’re referencing studies on human volunteers, not white blood cells,” Dr. Benaroch said. “For an article of this length, there are plenty of solid details, and I think this Telegraph article correctly paints a promising picture of the potential use of zinc to fight off common colds.”
The big question is: How did the claims by Cochrane and The Telegraph hold up? Dr. Benaroch pointed to a TIME magazine article from 2017—six years later—that supported these claims. He said that the study cited in the TIME article exhibits fairness since it comes with the caveat that the zinc doses were higher than recommended and that a specific type of zinc is recommended, but that cold symptom relief came to patients of all physiological demographics of life.
“So, a fairly dramatic potential improvement in the speed of resolution of a cold, and with only minor side effects,” Dr. Benaroch said. “Zinc does sound promising. Maybe not as a cure, but at least something worth trying to drive cold symptoms away faster.”
Amid a slew of bogus health remedies, it can be comforting to see a time-tested solution during your search for something to alleviate your cold symptoms.
Dr. Roy Benaroch contributed to this article. Dr. Benaroch is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine. He earned his B.S. in Engineering at Tulane University, followed by his M.D. at Emory University.