Zinc lozenges have long been sold at local health food stores and pharmacies to treat the common cold. But a new study out of Finland proves the exact do’s and don’ts to help you help yourself when sniffles start to surface.
According to a meta-analysis (looking at data from a number of studies to attempt to separate fact from fiction) of three randomized controlled trials, “zinc acetate” lozenges (with zinc dosages 80 to 92 mg/day) were found to boost recovery rates from the common cold by 300%. On the fifth day 70% of the patients sucking on the zinc lozenges had recovered in comparison to only 27% of the patients taking the inactive placebo.
These effective dosages (a bit under 100 mg of zinc a day) are higher than what is often found in many zinc lozenges presently sold on the market. To squelch a cold and shed that Kleenex, it seems you need a robust dose of zinc at the start of your symptoms, and continue this amount for about a week plus.
What we are talking about here is a therapeutic short-term dosage of zinc. Many studies have shown that high dosages of zinc, well beyond the RDA (11 mg/day for males and 8 mg/day for females) for short periods of time, don’t usually cause adverse issues other than getting nauseated. If you take more zinc than your body needs, you get sick to your stomach. This quickly reverses when you cut the dosage back.
In fact, in the olden nutritional medicine days, this was how doctors assessed how much zinc to give to an individual patient. They would prescribe elemental zinc (actual amount of the zinc ions in the supplement) to the point of nausea, and then back down about 20 to 50 mg below this amount. This was thought to optimize the zinc dose that for that patient’s unique physiology.
Taking 80-92 mg/day of zinc for one to two weeks, starting close to the onset of your first cold symptoms shouldn’t be a problem. If you do get nauseated, then back down from that dosage. This is in contrast to taking robust amounts of zinc long-term, which then often requires some copper supplementation to protect your tissue ratios between these two minerals.
Many zinc lozenges now on the market have insufficient levels of zinc to cut your cold duration. Or they contain substances that make the zinc ions unavailable, called zinc binders. One example is citric acid, which can block your body’s use of adequate zinc ions to fight that cold.
You need to read the label and look for the amount of “elemental” zinc to know exactly how much zinc you are taking. It is very frustrating when I read a label and don’t see an elemental amount of the mineral that is being purchased. I tend to avoid these supplements. One day I spent several hours on the phone with a well-respected doctor’s line inquiring about their magnesium citrate product. It label reported 120 mg of magnesium citrate. It did not say how much elemental magnesium. After speaking to many people, being on hold, yet remaining relentless, I finally discovered that this product only contained 18 mg of elemental magnesium. This is not enough to address many reasons why you would be taking magnesium replacement in the first place. Yeech.
Knowledge is power. I hope this helps you gain a pound today—a pound of wisdom!
Zinc Acetate Lozenges May Improve the Recovery Rate of Common Cold Patients: An Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis. Open Forum Infectious Diseases, 2017; 4 (2).
Zinc acetate lozenges for treating the common cold: an individual patient data meta-analysis. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2016 Nov;82(5):1393-1398.