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What to think about zinc for the common cold

Those hunting for a cure to the common cold have often come up empty handed. Until now. A new review, published in Open Respiratory Medicine Journal, reports that zinc may help shorten the length of colds. The key, according to the meta-analysis? Higher doses. Only people taking zinc acetate or zinc salts (other than acetate) in daily doses over 75 mg benefited. Zinc acetate reduced cold duration by 42 percent on average. Zinc salts shortened colds by an average of 20 percent.

The good news: No one in the study reported any long-term adverse effects when taking zinc. Some people didn’t like the taste of the lozenges, or they suffered temporary constipation, but that’s as rough as it got. In other words, zinc appears to be safe.

The bad news: Of the 13 placebo-controlled trials identified by study authors, only three used zinc acetate in doses over 75 mg. Only five used zinc salts (other than acetate) at that dose level. In other words, more research is needed.

What to do at retail: When a sniffly customer enters your store, should you point them to zinc for cold care? As a retailer, you can’t legally give out medical advice, so here’s what I’d do: Keep copies of this study review (or at least the abstract) in your supplements section. Refer interested consumers to the research. By pointing customers to third-party literature, you won’t break the law. And another thing to do: Stock up on zinc lozenges to prepare for cold season.

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