Zinc, Glorious Zinc

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I’ve always wondered whether zinc really helps cure colds. I was never the zinc addict that Jon Chait is, but I’ve used it in the past and it seemed to help. So I was happy to see yesterday that a new metastudy suggests that it really does have an effect. But there are side effects, and Aaron Carroll remains unconvinced:

Yes, there is now statistically significant evidence (whose strength is debatable) that zinc may help. But if you’re asking me if I will be taking zinc if I get a cold, the answer is no.

My problem with zinc is that the lozenges taste so terrible that I could never keep up the habit even for the few days of a cold. So I switched to the nasal spray, but then I was told that nasal zinc could kill your sense of smell. So I stopped using it. But the lozenges are really grim stuff. So now I just suffer through colds zinc free. Besides, it turns out that the better the study, the weaker the results:

An examination of only the most scientifically rigorous of the zinc studies shows it probably doesn’t shorten colds, said Dr. Terence M. Davidson, the director of the UC San Diego Nasal Dysfunction Clinic. “The more rigorously scientific studies, where you took a group of people and gave half of them zinc and half a placebo and inoculated their nose with a cold virus, found there were no differences,” Davidson said. “I think enough research has been done to show if there is some benefit, it’s not going to be very significant.”

Maybe so. But significant is in the eye of the beholder. One less day of misery might be well worth it. So tell me: how does the syrup taste? Is it as bad as the lozenges? It can’t possibly be, can it?


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