Taking zinc supplements can help to fight off the common cold, according to new research.
Scientists examined 15 trials involving a total of 1,360 people, which had produced conflicting results.
Their study found that taking zinc syrup, lozenges or tablets within a day of developing cold symptoms helped to battle the virus – reducing the severity and length of the illness.
They concluded that over a seven-day period, those who took the supplements managed to fight off the cold symptoms quicker than those who had taken 'dummy' placebos.
Prescribing zinc also reduced the use of antibiotics in children.
Antibiotics are not effective against viruses such as those responsible for colds and flu, and overuse can lead to the development of resistant bacteria.
The new findings have been published in The Cochrane Library, which reviews the latest evidence on medicines.
Lead scientist Dr Meenu Singh, from the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, said: 'This review strengthens the evidence for zinc as a treatment for the common cold. However, at the moment, it is still difficult to make a general recommendation, because we do not know very much about the optimum dose, formulation or length of treatment.'
The Cochrane researchers said further work should focus on specific populations.
'Our review only looked at zinc supplementation in healthy people,' said Dr Singh. 'But it would be interesting to find out whether zinc supplementation could help asthmatics, whose asthma symptoms tend to get worse when they catch a cold.'
"Interesting. I used to take zinc supplements as I was told it helped with hair and skin after I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism - I stopped taking tablets about 24 months ago, through laziness, and I have had more colds since; maybe I should start taking them again" - Theresa Henstock, Coventry