Should You Take Zinc for a Cold?

Here's what you need to know about using zinc to soothe your sniffles.

Before you think a season of sniffles and sore throats is inevitable, there’s one way you could fight back against the misery of the common cold: zinc. Researchers have touted the effectiveness of zinc supplements in fighting the common cold since as far back as 1984, according to the Mayo Clinic. Although study results have been mixed, more recent research shows that if you act at the first sign of symptoms, zinc supplement benefits can include lessening the length and severity of your colds. (Psst: Here’s how long a cold typically lasts.)

Medical professionals including pharmacist Timothy Brown, clinical associate professor of pharmacy practice at Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown, Ohio, says patients should speak with their doctor or pharmacist regarding zinc supplement benefits.  (See what to do when you’re too busy to get sick.)

Is zinc good for colds?

It’s worth it to keep zinc in your cold-fighting arsenal. “The information from medical studies shows that if the correct form of zinc is used it could reduce the severity of the symptoms and the length of time someone is sick with a cold,” Brown says. Here’s the right way: “Use zinc gluconate or zinc acetate lozenges, taken every two hours while awake, starting within 48 hours of the first symptom of the cold,” he says.

Before purchasing a zinc supplement, know that there are certain types to avoid. Most importantly, don’t put it up your nose. Zinc nasal gels and sprays have been associated with a loss of smell, per the National Institutes of Health. Even when an oral lozenge is taken correctly, side effects are possible when taking zinc for colds, including nausea or a bad taste in the mouth.

No matter what you use in the fight against the common cold it’s important to first speak with your doctor. As Brown notes, your past medical history and current prescriptions or supplements could determine whether zinc is appropriate for you.

But don’t just rely on zinc after you come down with a cold. Prevention is key. (Here are doctor-recommended cold and flu prevention tips.) “One of the best ways to prevent the common cold is to wash or sanitize your hands routinely as you go through your day and keep your hands away from your face to reduce transmission of the cold virus,” Brown says. If the unfortunate happens, reach for zinc and these cold-fighting foods.

Next, check out tips to help you recover from a cold fast.

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