Zinc and Echinacea – Good For Your Cold?

Zinc and Cold Symptoms

In an article on the Mayo Clinic website, Brent A. Bauer, M.D. discusses whether zinc will help, hurt, or do nothing to affect the severity of your symptoms when you come down with a cold.

The answer to the question is: Maybe – but beware.

Several studies have been conducted to test the effectiveness of zinc against cold symptoms, and there has been some indication that it helps.  But unfortunately, the studies that have been conducted have been small and have used different forms (lozenges and syrups), different dosages of zinc, and different durations of treatment. So, even if it appears that zinc may help reduce cold symptoms in either severity or duration, it’s not clear what the effective dose and treatment schedule would be.

On the flip side, Dr. Bauer warns against the possible dangers of using zinc preparations. Zinc lozenges can cause nausea or a bad taste in the mouth. Some people who used zinc nasal sprays suffered a permanent loss of smell. And large amounts of zinc are toxic and can cause copper deficiency, anemia and damage to the nervous system.

Because of the dangers posed by zinc, Mayo Clinic doctors caution against using zinc nasal sprays. Talk to your doctor before you decide to use zinc to treat your cold.

Echinacea and Cold Symptoms

Another article by Dr. Bauer discusses whether echinacea helps reduce cold symptoms, and its conclusion is pretty much the same as for zinc: It might help, but maybe it won’t.

As with zinc, some studies have been done regarding echinacea’s efficacy in treating colds, but they too were flawed, for similar reasons. The products that were tested contained different concentrations of the herb, for one thing. Further, the extracts in these products came from different parts of the plant: either the flowers, stems, or roots, or some combination of the three. Finally, there are three different echinacea plant species that can be used in the products. Whatever results these studies have shown, it’s not possible at this point to determine what the effective dose and treatment schedule should be to obtain the best benefits from echinacea.

As for risks of echinacea use, it appears that, for most people, it doesn’t cause any problems, but some people have reported stomach upset or diarrhea when they’ve used echinacea products. The herb also could interact with other medications, so it’s important that you talk with your doctor before you use echinacea supplements.

Information for this article was obtained from The Mayo Clinic.