Woman using zinc to shorten her cold sitting on a couch blowing her nose

Want to Kick the Common Cold Faster? Think Zinc

Want to Kick the Common Cold Faster? Think Zinc

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

An international team of researchers from more than five universities found that zinc shortened the duration of the common cold by about two days, and that taking zinc preventively reduced the likelihood of getting a cold by 28%.

Previous findings had suggested a zinc deficiency was linked to a higher incidence of getting sick—but a new meta-analysis found that zinc helped people without deficiencies fend off rhinovirus infections.

"It is commonly thought that zinc's role in preventing and treating infections is only for people who are zinc deficient; our findings really challenge this notion," said study author Jennifer Hunter of Western Sydney University.

Is zinc good for a common cold?

Zinc is your best weapon of defense against viral respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold. You can make a lengthy list of specific benefits from zinc because it is a cofactor for over 300 enzymes, but it is most famous for these immune system benefits.

Zinc not only shortens the duration of a cold, but it also reduces the risk of getting one in the first place. That's because this nutrient blocks specific cell adhesion molecules on cells to prevent viral entry.

How zinc protects you from the rhinovirus

The most known virus that causes the common cold is a rhinovirus, and it infiltrates cells primarily by attaching to a cell receptor called ICAM-1 (intracellular adhesion molecule 1). Zinc has been shown to be able to bind to ICAM-1, which makes it harder for the rhinovirus to get you sick. It's as if ICAM-1 is a door and zinc is a bodyguard preventing harmful intruders from entering.

What type of zinc is best for a common cold?

To fight common colds, zinc needs to disassociate into free zinc ions so that it can block cell adhesion molecules. However not all forms of zinc are equally adept at accomplishing this task.

Zinc acetate releases 100% of its zinc as ionic zinc making it by far the most effective. Other forms of zinc do not compare. For example:

  • Zinc gluconate releases 72% ionic zinc
  • Zinc gluconate-glycine releases around 57% ionic zinc
  • Zinc gluconate-citrate releases no ionic zinc

It is for this reason why zinc acetate is likely the superior form of zinc for the purpose of fighting a common cold.

The method of delivery of zinc matters as well. Research shows that to fully optimize the benefits of zinc for the common cold it should be taken in a slow-dissolving form. This is not surprising, as a common cold is a disease of the respiratory tract; therefore, zinc should be targeted to the mucus membranes of the throat and nose.

When should you take zinc?

Zinc should be taken ASAP when symptoms of a cold first arise—within 24 hours should be the goal, but the quicker you can take zinc, the more likely it is to be effective.

In addition, zinc can be taken daily—in fact, since it provides cardiovascular, thyroid and neurological benefits, this is a good idea.

4 ways to fight the common cold

In addition to zinc, there are other ways to fight back when you're feeling under the weather:

  1. Go beyond zinc with your immune support strategy.
  2. Zinc might not always be sufficient for fighting common colds; elderberry and vitamin C are a couple great options to provide greater immune support. According to randomized-controlled trial, elderberry extract resolves upper respiratory symptoms up to four days earlier than a placebo and another meta-analysis found that vitamin C can reduce the duration of colds by 9.4% overall—and by 18% in children.

  3. Eat immune-supportive foods.
  4. There are many foods that boost the immune system. Garlic can enhance the immune system by stimulating immune cells called macrophages and NK cells. Spinach is an excellent source of vitamins such as vitamin A, which boosts our antibody response. Pineapple is a great source of an enzyme called bromelain, which supports respiratory health and may prevent and clear infections. Salmon is high in vitamin D3, which provides a variety of support for the immune system.

  5. Get enough sleep.
  6. It's imperative that we get our 7-9 hours of sleep to bolster our ability to fight off illnesses—and if you're currently struggling with a cold, it's even more important that you catch those ZZZs. We should eliminate or at least reduce the exposure to blue light from our electronic devices within one to two hours of bedtime. If you're still having trouble sleeping, melatonin and/or tryptophan are great options to help.

  7. Don't let stress take you out of commission.
  8. High levels of stress may be related to poor immune health. If you are constantly worried, anxious or burned out, it's important that you take steps to bring stress under control. A couple examples of herbs with convincing clinical support for stress relief are L-theanine and ashwagandha.



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The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.