First they said no, now they say yes!
Turns out zinc, a historically hotly debated supplement, can in fact help reduce the length of the common cold. This, according to a new review conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration, the same group of researchers that in 1999 found zinc to be little more effective than a placebo.
Well things change. In this review the researchers studied placebo-controlled, double-blind trials examining zinc dating as far back as 1984. Pulling from 15 trials (as opposed to the 8 examined in the 1999 review) of more than 1,300 people, Cochrane determined that zinc not only shortened the length of the common cold -- if taken within 24 hours of first symptoms -- but also lessened the severity.
But here's the real ringer from the Cochrane Collaboration's study: "Zinc supplementation for at least five months reduces incidence, school absenteeism and prescription of antibiotics for children with the common cold." That's right, a steady supplementation of zinc may reduce the the incidence of the common cold, even keep you away from the doctor's office.
Still there are skeptics. "The theory is great, but the study is not," said Dr. Richard Besser, Chief Health and Medical Editor for ABC News. "They're not looking at any new data, they are looking at everything that has been published so far, and the worst part of this is the data on prevention. I really see very little evidence that it prevents infection."
Before running out to stock up on zinc lozenges, pills and syrups, keep in mind that zinc still has its drawbacks. Side effects can include nausea, a bad taste in the mouth, loss of smell (when administered in the nose), diarrhea, dry mouth and abdominal pain. (Because the doses of zinc administered varied from study to study, Cochrane reviewers did not pinpoint an exact dose likely to cause side effects.) See here for recommended daily doses of zinc.