The common cold and flu have become frequent nuisances, and although these illnesses aren’t usually fatal, they can put a wrench in your plans and put a strain on your body. While the best cure is time and bedrest, you are probably wondering how to shorten a cold or flu. Many over-the-counter remedies to shorten a cold or flu have zinc and/or elderberry. Do they really work? We will examine the evidence.
Zinc for Colds
Zinc is an essential mineral that plays a variety of roles in cellular growth and metabolism which are important in mount an immune response. However, zinc syrup and lozenges for cold and flu symptoms may be helpful for another reason. Zinc in lozenges or syrup may actually inhibit the cold and flu virus from binding to your very own cells.
People who took zinc had a shorter duration of cold symptoms.
In one randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 100 employees of the Cleveland Clinic who had developed cold symptoms received either a placebo or a zinc lozenge. The zinc group was given one lozenge every two hours containing 13.3 mg of zinc from zinc gluconate for the length of their cold symptoms. The placebo group was given a lozenge containing 5 percent calcium lactate pentahydrate. Researchers evaluated subjective daily scores for symptoms, including cough, headache, muscle aches, hoarseness, nasal drainage, congestion, sore throat, scratchy throat, fever, and sneezing.
Results of the study found that the group treated with zinc took a median of 4.4 days for their symptoms to resolve compared to the placebo group’s 7.6 days. The zinc treated group had significantly fewer days exhibiting headaches, coughing, headache, congestion, nasal drainage, and sore throat. However, more patients in the zinc group showed minor side effects, including nausea and bad taste reactions. Many zinc containing products recommend zinc to be taken with food to minimize side effects.1
Zinc Helps with Cold and Flu Symptoms
In another similar study, researchers took 146 volunteers who were experiencing symptoms of the common cold or flu. Volunteers received either a placebo or zinc treatment, which comprised a 23 mg lozenge dissolved in the mouth every 2 hours following an initial double dosage. Of the starting volunteers, 120 returned their reports. Results of the study showed that 86 percent of the zinc group had no symptoms after seven days compared to only 46 percent of the placebo group. Minor side effects include mouth irritation and bad taste. The study supports the use of zinc for cold and flu symptoms.2
A third study involved 249 students in the first through twelfth grades. Students were given either a placebo or a lozenge containing 10 mg of zinc five times per day for grades 1 to 6 and six times per day for grades 7 to 12. Results of this study showed that time to symptom resolution did not differ between placebo and zinc groups.3
There seems to be conflicting results for the use of zinc so it may be more useful to look at many studies. That is the idea behind a meta-study which looks at data from multiple studies. A meta study on zinc for colds analyzed results from 17 trials and found that:
- Those receiving zinc had a shorter duration of cold symptoms
- Zinc shortened the duration of cold symptoms in adults but no effect was seen among children
- Zinc had some side effects such as bad taste and nausea7
In conclusion, zinc lozenges offer an inexpensive means to reduce the duration and severity of common cold symptoms in adults but may be less effective in children.
Elderberry for Flu and Cold
Is there any evidence for using elderberry for flu and cold symptoms? We found several promising studies.
People who took elderberry experienced improvements with influenza symptoms.
In a placebo-controlled, double-blind study, researchers evaluated the effects of a standardized elderberry extract syrup on 40 individuals during an influenza outbreak. Children in the treatment group received 2 tablespoons daily and adults 4 tablespoons daily of the elderberry syrup or control.
Over six days, researchers recorded fever, feeling of improvement, and complete cure of each individual.
Results of the study showed a significant improvement in all symptoms in 93.3 percent of the individuals who used the elderberry extract group within just two days. In the control group, 91.7 percent of the patients showed an improvement in six days. The elderberry extract group were completely cured within two to three days of treatment. This suggests the safe and effective use of elderberry syrup for flu symptoms.4
People who took elderberry had a shorter duration of flu symptoms.
Similar results were found in another randomized study, 60 patients suffering from influenza-like symptoms for 48 hours or less were given either 15 ml of elderberry or a placebo four times per day for five days. Patients recorded their own symptoms using a visual analog scale. The results of the study showed that patients who had taken the elderberry extract were relieved of their symptoms an average of about four days earlier than those in the placebo group for flu symptoms.6
Elderberry may improve severity of cold symptoms.
In another study, 312 air travelers were given 650mg-1500mg elderberry treatment or a placebo control before, during, and for 4 days after air travel. Surveys were completed daily and analyzed by the researchers who found that placebo group participants had more cold episode days (117 vs 57, p= 0.02) and the average symptom score during these episodes were more severe in the placebo group. (583 vs 247, p=0.05).5 This study indicates that elderberry may be helpful in reducing the severity and symptoms of the common cold.
If you are wonder how to shorten the flu naturally or reduce your cold symptoms, zinc and elderberry may be the natural supplements you’ve been looking for. Both zinc and elderberry need to be taken in the form of a lozenge or syrup in order to be effective. Formulas sometimes but not always will contain both ingredients to produce better results. Consult your doctor if your cold or flu symptoms do not improve.
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