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Men's Health
December, 1997

SECTION: No. 10, Vol. 12; Pg. 78; ISSN: 1054-4836

LENGTH: 819 words

HEADLINE: Zinc for yourself: miracle treatment ... or hype? Here's the truth about zinc and colds; Brief Article

BYLINE: Baker, Russ

THEY WERE ALMOST as hard to find as Sasquatch.

Spurred by a study that said zinc could significantly reduce the length and severity of colds, Americans flocked to drugstores and health-food stores last winter in search of Cold-Eeze lozenges, the zinc product purported to have the right stuff for wiping away the sniffles. Demand was so great, stores couldn't keep their shelves stocked.

A year later, zincmania is hotter than ever, with everyone from huge pharmaceutical conglomerates to obscure Internet vendors putting their own zinc cold remedies on the market. But will zinc really unclog your stuffy nose? Here's the answer:

The research.

Zinc is a mineral your body needs for (among other essential duties) fighting disease. The notion that zinc might be good for a cold took root in the 1980s after Texan George Eby, whose three-year-old daughter was undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia, noticed that the girl's cold disappeared after she fell asleep with a zinc gluconate tablet in her mouth. Though not medically trained, Eby began researching the phenomenon and enlisted some scientists to help. In 1984 they published a study that showed this modified form of the mineral could reduce a cold's length by nearly seven days.

Eby's work inspired more re search by other parties, but inconsistent results--as well as zinc gluconate's horrible taste--hindered development for years. In the summer of 1996, however, a breakthrough was reported. In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic found that those who took zinc gluconate lozenges with glycine suffered colds that were less severe and several days shorter than those who took placebos. What's more, the glycine plus some citrus flavoring in the lozenges made their taste bearable.

Within months the product containing the Cleveland Clinic-tested formulation, Cold-Eeze, began flying off store shelves. During the first half of 1997, the Quigley Corporation, manufacturers of Cold-Eeze, sold $ 26.3 million worth of the lozenges.

The controversy.

Before you go rushing out to buy zinc for your own cold, however, know two things. First, some leading cold researchers remain skeptical of the Cleveland Clinic study's focus on symptom relief rasher then on blood levels of the cold virus. The study's authors, and other doctors, defend the work, but admit further study is needed. "No one study answers all the questions," says Dominick Iacuzio, Ph.D., director of the influenza and related viral respiratory diseases program at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Second, in the wake of Cold-Eeze's success, there is now an array of zinc cold products on the market, including one formula for zinc acetate developed by Eby that he believes may work as effectively as--or even better than--zinc gluconate. Though his Web site boldly touts it as "the world's only patented cure for common colds," he acknowledges that results of clinical trials using his formula, while promising, have yet to be assessed. Eby's formula is being used in Cold-Free from Weider Nutrition International and Fast Dry from F & F Foods. (Halls Zinc Defense, new this cold season from Warner-Lambert, also contains zinc acetate.)

The bottom line.

It's possible that any, some or none of the zinc cold formulations out there are effective, but until more studies are completed, the Cleveland Clinic-tested formula, zinc gluconate with glycine (marketed as ColdEeze), is the only one that has passed a clinical trial. Still, even if it does work, it's important to remember that zinc doesn't pummel all symptoms. Although subjects noted its ability to chase off coughs, headaches, sore throats, hoarse voices, nasal congestion and runny noses, it did not stand up against fever, achy muscles, scratchy throats and sneezing.

Even so, independent observers say zinc might be worth a try. "As long as people take it in low doses that do not cause other side effects, then I guess it's not bad," says Iacuzio. He and other doctors urge the following precautions:

Follow the directions precisely. Zinc lozenges should be taken once every three to four hours, up to six lozenges per day, from the first sign of a cold until symptoms disappear. You must let the lozenges dissolve in your mouth--otherwise they're ineffective.

Don't overdo it Too much zinc taken over long periods can reduce the amount of essential copper in your body, ultimately weakening your immune system. Don't take the lozenges for more than a week.

Eat before you ingest The lozenges can upset your stomach, so it's best to consume them after a meal.

Watch your vitamin C intake. Don't consume citrus fruit or juices for 30 minutes before or after sucking on a zinc lozenge, since some cold experts believe vitamin C and related compounds may interfere with zinc's effectiveness.

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