Age Management Medicine Group > AMMG e-journal > February 2014 > AskDrDeSilva-February2014


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Does Zinc offer any real benefits for my patients?

Zinc is an important piece of the overall supplement picture—especially at this time of year. Zinc is a great supplement for cold and flu season. Numerous studies cited by the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and others note that zinc can reduce the severity and duration of cold symptoms. It is believed to do this by directly inhibiting rhinovirus binding and replication in the nasal mucosa and suppressing inflammation.

In clinical trials zinc lozenges significantly reduced the duration of cold symptoms: cough, nasal discharge, and muscle aches. The Cochrane Review looked at 18 therapeutic trials and found that, when taken within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms, zinc supplementation in the form of lozenges or syrup reduced the severity and duration of these symptoms. Cochrane also found that using zinc preventatively helped prevent colds; prophylactic zinc supplementation for at least five months reduced incidence, school absences and prescription of antibiotics for children with the common cold.

Evidence from the opposite perspective is also readily available. Mild zinc deficiency, which is relatively common among several categories of people including the elderly and those eating vegetarian or vegan diets, can lead to frequent colds and flu, chronic fatigue, and poor general health. Chronic zinc deficiency, not as common, can affect eyesight, taste, smell, and memory. As with other minerals and vitamins, while zinc is naturally found in some foods, the amounts are often negligible due to the overprocessing of so many foods today. And daily intake of zinc is required to maintain a steady state because the body does not store it.

A number of zinc supplements are commercially available, including zinc acetate, zinc gluconate, zinc picolinate, and zinc sulfate. I think
zinc picolinate is a better form because it is a little bit more bioavailable. Zinc picolinate is the kind I use, and I really like it.


Derrick M. DeSilva, Jr., M.D. is a member of the Medical Teaching Faculty at John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison, NJ, and an attending physician and practicing internist at the Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy, NJ, where he is co-chair of the Department of Complementary Medicine. He is a published author and has lectured on various topics in medicine, nationally and internationally. For more information, visit 

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