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Zinc can help shorten your cold or flu

By Ernie Mundell and Robert Preidt
HealthDay Reporters

TUESDAY 2 Nov. 2021 (HealthDay News) – Many people use a zinc supplement at the first sign of a cold, and there is new evidence to support the habit.

Australian researchers have found that the supplements appears to help shorten airway infections, such as colds, flu, sinusitis and pneumonia.

Very over-the-counter cold and Cough drugs offer only ‘marginal benefits’, the researchers noted, making’ zinc a viable ‘natural’ alternative to the self-management of non-specific [respiratory tract infections]. “

The study was led by Jennifer Hunter, an associate professor at the NICM Health Research Institute at the University of Western Sydney in Penrith, New South Wales. Her team reviewed the findings Nov. 2 in the BMJ open.

According to Hunter’s team, zinc as a nutrient has attracted the attention of researchers because it is known to play an important role in immunity, infectiontissue injury, blood pressure and in tissue responses to any oxygen deficiency.

To find out more about zinc’s potential, the researchers reviewed more than two dozen clinical trials which included more than 5,400 adults. All were published in 17 English and Chinese research databases until August 2020. None of them specifically investigated the use of zinc for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19.

Suction tablets were the most common form of zinc intake, followed by nasal sprays and gels, the research team said. Dosage varied considerably depending on the formulation and whether zinc was used for prevention or treatment.

In comparison with placebo, zinc lozenges or nasal sprays were estimated to prevent about five new respiratory infections in 100 people per month, and the effects were strongest for reducing the risk of more serious symptoms, such as fever and flu-like illnesses. However, these findings are based on only three studies, the team noted.

Symptoms cleared up on average two days earlier with the use of either a zinc spray or liquid formulation used under the tongue (sublingual), compared to a placebo, the data showed.

Patients who used nasal spray or sublingual zinc were almost twice as likely to recover during the first week of illness as those who used a placebo, the study authors noted in a journal news release. And 19 more patients out of every 100 will probably have symptoms a week later if they do not use zinc supplements.

Zinc was not associated with reduced average daily symptoms, but it was associated with a clinically significant reduction in symptoms severity on the third day of illness, Hunter’s team found.

No serious side effects have been reported among zinc users.

All in all, zinc as a treatment option could be offered by doctors to patients “who are desperate for faster recovery times and may be looking for an unnecessary antibiotic prescription,” the researchers suggested.

Dr. Len Horovitz is a pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. He was not involved in the new study, but agreed that “most clinical evidence supports the use of zinc supplementation for the prevention and treatment of colds, some inflammatory processes and respiratory infections.”

“The usual recommendation is 25 mg of zinc daily,” Horovitz said, but he warned that “it is unclear exactly which dose is best.”

The Australian team agreed. “Clinicians and consumers should be aware that there is considerable uncertainty about the clinical efficacy of different zinc formulations, dosages and routes of administration,” they concluded.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on zinc.

SOURCES: Len Horovitz, MD, Pulmonary Specialist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; BMJ open, news release, 1 Nov. 2021

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