Zinc and the Common Cold Part III

Nov• 08•2011

First off I would say I deleted some comments that I didn’t mean to, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.  If your comment got deleted please understand that it is a casualty of the spam wars and was by no means intentionally deleted, I think I even deleted my own response to a comment.  I am getting much better at “taking out the garbage” at this point without requiring any sort of moderation or sign-up, so if you have anything to say please say it, I may not even delete it ;-)   Okay so where were we, zinc and the common cold …

Yes, as was pointed out in parts I and II zinc in a reasonable formulation such as zinc acetate, has been documented in the peer reviewed medical literature, if taken at levels of 75 milligrams per day or greater to shorten the duration of the common cold in a statistically significant manner.  While this finding has been repeated in some half dozen studies, with no negative studies at this dose, far more than might be required for approval of a new drug through FDA, it is not a tremendously dramatic effect, vitamin D while less documented may have even greater effect.   One might expect with zinc intake at this dose that the duration of one’s cold would be shortened by about one third.

I am a bit at a loss at this point how to proceed.  We might discuss what one might expect to see if a new molecular entity, let’s call it Virex(TM) could cut 1/3 off the common cold … or we could discuss the side effects of a little extra zinc.

Well, let’s start in my mind how this might play out if zinc was a highly profitable new prescription drug.  Cue the advertisement at the football game with some fat slob and his family, the husband sneezes and the wife leans over and asks “What’s wrong honey?”  “It’s this darn cold , it just won’t go away … sneeze.”  Son says, “Daddy, look they scored a touch down”.  Fat slob glances up,  “I should have taken Virex(Tm)” cue trombones, whah, whah, whah.  Cue fast talker: (Virex(TM) may cause liver inflammation, rare side effects include convulsion, catatonic depression and nose bleeds, in some studies Virex(TM) caused temporary blindness and hair loss, if either condition persists consult your physician. Do not use Virex (Tm) when driving, changing light bulbs, or breathing more than 5 times per minute.  Ask your doctor about clinically proven Virex(Tm)).  Alight it sounds silly but things are not much better regarding the evidence for many prescription drugs.

So now, especially as zinc is a non-patentable, cheap as dirt drug, we need to talk about the numerous side effects.  Oh wait this is a micronutrient, the majority of “side effects” at medicinal doses are actually ancillary benefits.  Without making this a ten part series, I would just note that there are recently discovered portions of numerous enzymes, at least one hundred as we mentioned earlier, that contain “zinc finger motifs” which use zinc to function optimally.

Much of this is relatively new research.  It could have turned out that zinc, like lead, aluminum or other elements was toxic, but we know now, though it is not discussed much, that zinc is a necessary and beneficial micronutrient in a variety of instances.  Still, the side effects.  Zinc is widely discussed as unfortunately associated with decreased libido and impotence, oh wait … wait, hold everything, that would be the 10 billion+ dollar a year statin class of drugs which has that discussion ongoing.  Talk about being able to sell ice cubes to Eskimos.  Then again, “take our drug or you will drop dead” is a pretty good sales line.

Actually zinc is anecdotaly associated with increased libido.  One might think of oysters (which contain 75 mg of bioavailable zinc on average) as a lovers meal as an example.  Beyond anecdote though there is also some research to support this position. Effects of zinc supplementation on sexual behavior of male rats,  published in 2009 concludes by noting, “Zinc therapy improves sexual competence of male rats; the effect is dose dependent.”  There are numerous studies of the role of zinc on libido in hemodialysis patients as well.

I am not going to go into, in this series, all of the numerous potential medicinal uses of zinc, hopefully this will be part of future articles.  Suffice it to say that along with improving immune function and libido, zinc has been found to be beneficial in prevention or treatment of a variety of cancers, prostate cancer being especially researched on this front.  It also has been relatively recently documented to shorten the duration of and greatly decrease mortality from acute infectious diarrhea.  This last finding being researched to the extent that the oh-so-avant-garde World Health Organization now even recommends that zinc be part of any diarrheal treatment regime, though to my knowledge that recommendation is yet to take wide effect.  This last point may seem a bit dull to some readers unless they consider that some one million people die per year of acute diarrheal illness, the majority being children.  Any cheap, effective therapy for this disease has an enormous impact on public health.

I have gotten far afield of zinc and the common cold.  However, in the first part, I asked where is the excitement for zinc as an inexpensive medicinal and the subsequent research in, say viral indications other than the common cold?  In the second part, where is the guidance from the medical community on how best to prescribe this drug?  In this part I will ask two questions 1) why do harmless to beneficial ancillary treatments seem to often be viewed in an adversarial light by prescribing clinicians?  If there is the evidence in the peer reviewed literature that various non-patentable treatments are relatively harmless and likely to be of benefit, why aren’t they, if not prescribed, at least promoted, along with their often more toxic and risky patentable cousins?  And finally, while it would most likely be a topic for a blog site in and of itself, is there an easy way forward to harness business interests towards the use of less expensive, non-patentable therapies or are wholesale changes required?  Would be curious to hear any and all thoughts on this.

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  1. Finding a good supplement is one of the vital factors to living a healthy life. For me, this vitamin has always proven to be the most effective. It just gives your soul what it needs and it doesn’t have all of those nasty side effects as all of the bad ones. It’s also one of the cheapest ones out there.

  2. Stacie says:

    Thank you for these articles. I love your humorous references to statins. This is of particular interest to me as my husband has CAD and has opted not to take them. (To be honest, I would probably flush them down the toilet. Oh wait, that would poison the water. Okay, into the trash.) Anyway, what brand zinc supplement do you or your readers recommen?. Also, what about dosage, and is it recommended for every day or just when experiencing a cold?

    • admin says:

      Hi Stacie,

      If you haven’t already seen it you might be interested in The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics website.

      As a traditonally trained physician I don’t want to pretend to more knowledge than I have here, so really what I can say is that using, if I recall, a few different formulations, zinc was found to shorten the duration of colds whenever used at 75 mg/day or more. My understanding is that you want one that will dissociated easily into ionic zinc. I use zinc gluconate which is fairly common.

      Given the toxicity of other metals I was actually expecting to find a lot more on toxicity with zinc, but this is not at all borne out in the literature, unless you acutely take multigram levels or chronically multiple hundred milligram levels there doesn’t seem to be a significant toxicity issue. Despite all the benefits I would be a little uncomfortable taking 75 mg/day chronically. Though if one were ill temporaily taking 75 or 100 mg/day shows evidence of benefit. Whenever there is tissue turnover (inflammation, need for wound healing) and/or stress on the immune system, zinc is a help and seems one checkbox to be sure is checked. Personally I take a 50 mg zinc maybe twice a week but see no problem with 25-50mg/day and as I further look into zinc benefits may do this myself. Really the only vitamins I try not to miss every day are C and D. Here I have a lot of irrelevant adds for readers and you are asking me to recommend a product. I have to be honest and say something doctors don’t like to say, “I don’t know.” I will look into it and perhaps in a future post on zinc try and provide some guidance. Like readers I am learning much of this as I go along as well, just starting with a different set of tools in the toolbox.

  3. Tim says:

    Re. Stacie’s remarks on statin use, good idea to watch Dr Mercola’s interview with Dr Stephanie Seneff. She has to be the expert on them; she states categorically that she would not take statins under any circumstances whatsoever, and she spells out the reasons why. They are lethal, and probably the reason why deaths from heart failure are now the #1 cause of death in the US.
    In passing, she also mentions zinc, it has a crucial role to perform in the overall heart health paradigm which she is adducing.

    • admin says:

      Hi Tim,

      Wow, small world. I keep in touch with Professor Seneff on different health related topics. Not to boast, well in light of your comment, to boast, if you search the site you can see that I was publicizing, with her permission, Dr. Seneff’s health essays long before the good Dr. Mercola interviewed her. I am also thankful for her work in furthering voice recognition when I broke my hand a while back.

      As a co-member of THINCS I suspect Stephanie and I would both agree that Dr. Uffe Ravnskov MD, PhD is one of the, if not the, leading voice questioning the cholesterol campaign. I have written a post on his THINCS website http://healthjournalclub.com/international-network-cholesterol-skeptics/ as well as reviewed one of his books on the topic http://healthjournalclub.com/book-review-fat-cholesterol-good/

      I find Stephaine’s research intuiging and writing cogent, her views especially on the role of sulfur in health strike me as intriguing. Thx for the comment and welcome aboard.


  4. susan says:

    Hi Paul,
    First of all, thank you so much for doing that entire series on statins. I forwarded each article to my husband who I’d been trying to get off of those things and you were definitely the tipping point. He’s off and his last count was 168. Color his doctor shocked! (It helps, I’m sure, that hubs is married to a nutritionist, haha)

    Re:zinc being tested/included in viral research etc. – have you read P.Joseph Lisa’s book “Assault on Medical Freedom”? I read this about 10 years ago and it gave me an understanding of tentacles of control. It doesn’t matter if things work or not, if Big Pharma can’t make a good buck on it, furgedaboudit. I’ve used zinc for at least 40 years, although not often personally. I may get a cold once in five or six years, so mild I almost don’t count it.

    Saw the sulfur discussions – looking in to that as well. Let me know what you think.

    • admin says:

      Hi Susan,

      Glad to hear the good news. As I mention in the latest news round-up the side effects of statins are slowly beginning to go mainstream.

      I haven’t read “Assualt on Medical Freedom” but I looked it up and put it on my to-do list, thanks. My next book review is “The World according to Monsanto” which I believe you have read already as well.

      I was actaully surprised at the lack of toxicity of the metal zinc and the evidence for benefit from studies. Will try to return to the topic once in a while. Re: sulfur I now feel this is a very overlooked essential micronutrient and as I have my hands on so many different topics will probably just pay attention to what Dr. Seneff continues to come up with in this regard.

  5. Stacie says:

    Hi all:

    Thank you, Dr., for the information regarding zinc dosing. I am very familiar with THINCS. I have read many of their articles. I have also read many of Dr. Seneff’s articles (on your site and elsewhere) and saw the interview with Dr. Mercola. I think she is brilliant. Being a layperson, though, I confess to not understanding all she has to say. Dr. Ravnskov is brilliant, as is Dr. Graveline. I especially love what Dr. Peter Langsjoen has to say about statins. Basically, if you have been prescribed them, throw them in the garbage. This is amazing coming from a cardiologist. Dr. De Lorgeril is in the forefront of disputing the cholesterol campaign. All statin trials since 2005 have been negative, and he questions the “supposed” positive trials prior to 2005. What I do not understand, though, is why anyone would think that absolute risk reduction (for death or MI) of about 2% is something to be excited about. You can achieve that with aspirin, omega 3, vitamin E.