Zinc? Don't make me laugh

zinc The media is buzzing today with the latest incarnation of the “Zinc cures common cold” story. This isn’t new. The first report to show that zinc might be a useful treatment for the common cold was published in 1984. Since then, 18 more trials of zinc for colds have been conducted: 11 of them showed zinc to be a useful treatment, while 7 other trials showed no benefit. The present flap comes about because of a new meta-analysis published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

Sadly, this meta-analysis has got its facts in a twist and obscured the truth. Why? Because there is no evidence that zinc is effective against any viruses other than human rhinoviruses (HRV). And, as I’ve been telling my students for the past few weeks – “the common cold” is not a disease, it’s a symptom, caused by at least five different kinds of virus. Four of which zinc does nothing to. (By the way BBC News, human rinovirus isn’t spread primarily by sneezes, it’s spread by people sticking contaminated fingers up their noses).

So don’t get too excited folks. The next time you get a cold, it won’t be common, you won’t know what virus has infected you and you won’t know whether it’s worth risking the toxic effects of zinc ingestion for a potential “cure” (or not). Nice story, shame about the facts.

Zinc for the common cold (Review). The Cochrane Library 2011, Issue 2

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