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July 29, 2011

Meta-analysis affirms efficacy for zinc lozenges in common cold

Meta-analysis affirms efficacy for zinc lozenges in common cold

The outcome of a meta-analysis published online on June 23, 2001 in the Open Respiratory Medicine Journal concludes that zinc lozenges are beneficial in reducing the length of the common cold if the mineral is available in sufficient quantities.

For the review, Dr Harri Hemilä of the University of Helsinki selected thirteen placebo-controlled trials examining the effects of zinc lozenges on cold duration. Three trials tested zinc acetate and five trials tested other forms of zinc in daily doses of greater than 75 milligrams. The remaining five trials evaluated the use of lozenges that contained lower doses of the mineral.

While pooled analysis of the five trials that analyzed the effects of less than 75 milligrams zinc found no benefit, zinc acetate consumed in doses higher than 75 milligrams per day was associated with a 42 percent reduction in cold duration. Consuming more than 75 milligrams per day of other forms of zinc was associated with a 20 percent decrease in the length of colds.

Dr Hemilä notes that consideration of dosage alone may be a simplified approach to supplementation, because some types of zinc lozenges, including those that contain zinc tartrate or citrate, bind zinc ions tightly, thereby decreasing the level of free zinc ions. Additionally, some brands of lozenges may contain ingredients such as cotton seed oil that can react with zinc ions to create insoluble compounds. "New trials should be carried out to confirm the benefit of zinc acetate lozenges at a dosage of about 80 mg per day, and to examine whether even lower daily doses in appropriately formulated lozenges might be effective," Dr Hemilä writes.

Although no long term adverse effects were observed, high doses of zinc consumed for extended periods of time are not recommended. Nevertheless, Dr Hemilä remarks that 150 milligrams per day zinc has been administered for therapeutic uses for months or years in specific patients, and that a trial involving six weeks of supplementation at this level failed to result in a deficiency of copper (a potential side effect of prolonged intake of high amounts of zinc).

"Since a large proportion of trial participants have remained without adverse effects, zinc lozenges might be useful for them as a treatment option for the common cold," Dr Hemilä writes. "More research is needed on zinc lozenges to find optimal lozenge compositions and treatment strategies."

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Health Concern Life Extension Highlight

Common cold

The common cold is caused by a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. People afflicted with a cold often cough and sneeze, are fatigued, and have runny noses, sore throats, congestion, and a low-grade fever.

Although there is no specific drug that treats the common cold, there are steps that can be taken at the very first signs of symptoms that may help ward off infection. The key is to be aggressive: treat a potential infection as a full-blown illness, taking every precaution possible, including nutrients, hormones, and sometimes drugs, along with getting as much sleep as possible.

A number of published studies show that if zinc lozenges are taken within 24 hours of the onset of common cold symptoms, the severity and duration of cold miseries are significantly diminished (Hulisz D 2004; Prasad AS et al 2000; Marshall S 1998; Mossad SB et al 1996).

Rhinoviruses attach to specific cell receptor sites in sinus and throat tissues, become lodged in the nose and throat, and then replicate out of control (Gwaltney JM 2002). By binding to the same cell receptor sites as do cold viruses, zinc inhibits the ability of rhinoviruses to take hold in the body.

A meta-analysis of all the published literature on zinc lozenges was conducted last year. The following was the conclusion of the report: "Clinical trial data support the value of zinc in reducing the duration and severity of symptoms of the common cold when administered within 24 hours of the onset of common cold symptoms. Additional clinical and laboratory evaluations are warranted to further define the role of ionic zinc for the prevention and treatment of the common cold and to elucidate the biochemical mechanisms through which zinc exerts its symptom-relieving effects" (Hulisz D 2004).

The key here is to suck on two 24-mg zinc lozenges at the very first symptom of a cold and continue doing this every 2 hours (while awake). Once rhinoviruses bind to their receptor sites in the nasal tissues and begin replicating, zinc lozenges lose their efficacy. Considering how inexpensive zinc lozenges are, it makes sense to keep them on hand so that they are immediately available if cold symptoms manifest.

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