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Common cold and flu are more common in winter months. What can you do to reduce the risk of contracting these viral infections? Increasing your zinc intake may help, suggested a new study published in BMJ Open.
The study led by Jennifer Hunter, Associate Professor at Western Sydney University's NICM Health Research Institute, concluded that Zinc can prevent symptoms and shorten the duration of community-acquired acute viral respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold and flu-like illnesses.
Common causes of upper respiratory tract infections include respiratory viruses include rhinovirus, adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, and influenza virus. Because we spend indoors more often during winters, it becomes easier for viruses to pass from one person to another. This is one reason why respiratory illnesses are more common in colder months. In addition, experts say the cold, dry air may weaken out body's resistance against these germs.
In the new study, the researchers analysed 28 randomised controlled trials that had more than 5,000 adult participants of all age groups. Results showed that zinc lowered risk of contracting symptoms consistent with the common cold (28 per cent) and contracting a flu-like illness (68 per cent). Additionally, they found that zinc shortened the duration of symptoms by around two days as well as reduced symptomatic severity around the peak of illness.
However, the reduction in overall symptom severity were insignificant, and the protective effects of zinc were very less when participants were purposely infected with human rhinovirus.
Zinc's role in preventing and treating infections is commonly considered only for people who are zinc deficient, but the new study challenges this notion, Hunter said.
However, she cautioned that the results may not apply to Covid-19.
The study found an increased risk of non-serious adverse events related to zinc intake such as nausea or mouth and nasal irritation in some participants, but the very low risk of serious adverse events (such as copper deficiency from oral zinc and loss of smell from zinc nasal sprays and gels).
While there's limited research on whether zinc nasal spray or nasal gel or lozenge or oral zinc is any better or worse than the others, Hunter said zinc products are generally safe.
Zinc gluconate or zinc acetate formulations are mostly used in clinical trials.
Both cold and flu are respiratory infections caused by viruses. The symptoms you're having can tell if you have cold and flu. For example, if you have symptoms like runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing, cough, headache or body aches, mild tiredness, then you have probably contracted a cold.
If you have flu symptoms, you may also experience moderate to high fever, shaking chills, severe muscle or body aches, severe fatigue lasting up to two weeks, nausea and vomiting, as well as diarrhea.
Colds are often milder than the flu, and usually get better in 7 to 10 days. Compared to colds, flu symptoms come on more quickly and usually last 1 to 2 weeks.
With inputs from agencies