Can Taking Zinc Help Shorten Your Cold?
So we are right in the middle of cold and flu season and Alison as our consumer health aficionado. Let's start with talking about how to reduce the likelihood of getting a cold. Okay there's our shortwave favorite which washing your hands and you know mattie not everybody who gets exposed to cold actually get sick when they've done these studies where they take a rhinovirus and they stick it up people's noses and they see who gets sick and who doesn't they find that people who've slept less than six hours are about twice as likely to get sick when exposed to this cold virus as compared to people who've slept more so sleep is really important High stress has been shown to increase the likelihood and a lack of exercise has also been shown to make you more susceptible. I feel like you just targeted me with the high stress. I am not here to wag my finger at you or anyone else because at a certain point look we all get a cold. Typically adults in the. Us get about two to three colds a year. And when you do get a cold there is something you can do to put yourself out of so much misery. One method people swear by is zinc. That's right it's a mineral found in trace amounts in a lot of the foods that we eat our bodies need zinc to function optimally. In fact it's considered an essential mineral and boosting the amount of zinc. You get during a cold by sucking on zinc. Lozenges is actually shown a bunch of studies to help shorten the length of the common cold but only in certain situations and there are a lot of caveats so today on the show zinc an essential mineral and a cold remedy. We'll talk about when it works and when it doesn't Okay Alison we're talking about zinc and whether or not it helps shorten the length of a cold and there's a story behind that question that starts in the nineteen sixties. Yup that's right that is when a young physician named a Nanda persad studied a group of young Egyptian men who were completely deficient in zinc. Now these young men suffered from stunting. They hadn't grown to a normal height or developed normally in other ways and this is because they had very limited diets. They ate a lot of bread. That was hind phosphate. And that can actually block the absorption of zinc. Now skip ahead. Prasada is now ninety. One years old. He is still an active researcher at Wayne State University in Detroit and. He told me that when he gave these young men zinc. Something really remarkable happened. The grew at the rate of five to six inches in height the first two years so it was. What is a molecule remarkable? Change that occurred after supplementation. When you first documented this what was your you must have been ecstatic. Y- well actually the first patient re gives zinc and his other two couldn't believe it because I thought that the growth phenomena will be shut off after the age of eighteen and nothing will happen to anybody but that was not the case. So does that mean that. We all need to grow right well. We all do need zinc for optimal health. It doesn't work like a growth hormone and here in wealthier nations. It's completely possible to get enough zinc in your regular diet. But back in the nineteen sixties. The role of zinc was not at all understood. I mean people thought persad was crazy for just suggesting that zinc deficiency can do this but he ignored all those people who are skeptics. He just kept pressing on. He became really just kind of obsessed with getting to the bottom of how zinc work in the body. And so after he documented the growth in these young men. He threw himself into further studies. He really laid the groundwork by showing that zinc influences immunity he theorized that zinc works as an anti inflammatory agent and then over the course of a couple of decades persad and other scientists have shown that up to three hundred enzymes requires zinc for their activation or stability of their structure. Right like enzymes that you would even be familiar with like alcohol. Dehydrogenation rolls right up the Tong Yung. But importantly breaks down all that beer and wine. You drink the alcohol right right exactly but keep in mind. It took decades to show this. I mean lots of scientists completely questioned persad findings but eventually in nineteen seventy four. The National Academy of Sciences declared zinc an essential mineral for human health and they established recommended daily intake level. What is that Level Alison? Because now I'm a little worried about my zinc levels. Prepare well public. Health officials say that adult men need about eleven milligrams of zinc per day. Women about eight milligrams so let me help you figure this out. If you ate a three ounce beef chuck rose you'd get about seven milligrams so red meat can be quite high. That's close to a day's amount. A Half Cup of beings will get you about three milligrams. Pumpkin seeds a single ounce provides two point two milligrams so that's a good source and then there are lots of cereal grains that are fortified with zinc. Right that's why I eat a bowl of cereal every night. Eleven PM for my zinc. That's right you are clearly not zinc division. Here's a fun fact. Wasters have more zinc per serving than any other food. They contain seventy four milligrams per three serving. That feels like too much now overall. We shouldn't laugh. I mean overall here in North America overt zinc deficiency is pretty uncommon. But let me get back to the story of Dr Prasada and his discovery is now these zinc guidelines were first put into effect in nineteen seventy four and once. That happened. Persad began to wonder since he knew that zinc had an effect on immunity. Weather's zinc supplements might help to shorten the duration and symptoms of a common cold. And I should say that he kinda came at this from what he had realized back in Egypt. He's seeing that. A lot of these deficient men died early from infections. So his guests was that yes zinc lo and behold probably did play this role and immunity. Now it's known for instance that the body requires zinc to develop an activate t lymphocytes those. They're like protect you viruses and tae exactly that come out to protect you. They're the type of white blood cell. That is a key part of the immune system so this was all kind of in the back of his mind. He wanted to test out. Whether these zinc supplements might help shorten the cold so he collaborated with a scientist fellow. Scientists named Tom Fitzgerald at the University of Michigan. I talked to Fitzgerald and he told me what when Persad I gave him this theory. He was pretty skeptical. Got Admit when I first heard this I I actually told us a research assistant i. I think he's losing it. I was he so skeptical other than just being a scientist right. Exactly you know. I guess he was skeptical. That something as basic as a mineral would be powerful enough on its own to alter immune function which is a good level of skepticism. But he did agree to do the study. They recruited a whole bunch of people in Detroit. Who had colds? They gave them zinc lozenges made by a pharmacist. It was a double blind placebo controlled trials that means that neither the participants nor the researchers knew who was getting the real thing and who was getting the Placebo. And here's what they found long behold when I did in Dallas it indeed did shorten common cold symptoms by about two or three days and I gotTa Admit. I was stunned by that result. Two or three days isn't nothing now not at all when you think about. How many lost work and schooldays there are just because of cold symptoms that significant absolutely and then several other studies have confirmed these findings. I talked to another scientist. His name is Harry. Pamela of the University of Helsinki in Finland he published a sort of Meta analysis that reviewed a bunch of the studies and says bottom line here is low doses of zinc lozenges. Don't work you gotTa take about eighty to ninety milligrams a day of zinc at the onset of a cold that has been shown to help shorten it and he says he now uses zinc when he the cold coming on himself though. I'm also encouraging my patients to try zinc but Usually I am encouraging only if the common cold has been lost in for a day or something like that so he saying only within the first day that's right because if you don't catch it at the beginning you can't really halt the progression. It doesn't work okay so if you're taking zinc at the beginning of a cold it has to be within the first twenty four hours. That's what the studies have shown. Okay but here is another caveat and it's a pretty big one if you go to the drugstore right now and you find a zinc product. A lot of what you'll find are these multi ingredient products with a whole bunch of other ingredients. You've probably never heard of before. Be Aware that a lot of ingredients can undercut the effectiveness for instance. Some of them contain citric acid which actually binds with the zinc and makes it completely ineffective. So you're basically saying you've got to take it early. You've got to take at least eighty to ninety milligrams and avoid stuff with citric acid. That's right and as the consumer health reporter here I want to be able to say. Go out and buy this product. Unfortunately I can't do that because the lozenges used in the clinical trial. Those are not commercially available. And here's the deal. A LOTTA TIMES MANUFACTURERS CHANGE THEIR INGREDIENTS. They changed dosing. It's hard to make a solid recommendation about a product. Just basically have to do your homework. You gotta be aware that you need certain dose and that you don't want all these other ingredients think it's more what you can feel assured of is that there's science behind the idea that yes zinc can help shorten a cold. Would you be comfortable saying? Hey go out there and eat a couple of years. You know if you're seafood lover absolutely go. Enjoy some wasters. I can't tell you whether or not they're an aphrodisiac but I can tell you. They've got plenty of zinc