Zinc can beat the common cold

The last thing anyone's thinking of this time of year is winter and winter colds.

But they'll both be here soon enough -- and with them, the annual $4 billion market for cold meds.

Some of those drugs are ineffective. Many are downright dangerous. And nearly all of them are overpriced -- especially when you consider that one of the best natural cures for the common cold can be had for just pennies a day.

It's zinc, and a new analysis of 17 placebo-controlled clinical trials involving a combined 2,100 patients shows that these supplements can cut cold duration by an average of 1.6 days.

That's overall.

But adults who took doses higher than 75 mg a day got a much bigger benefit. They cut their cold duration by nearly three days -- turning an illness that could ruin a week into a few days of sniffles.

On the downside, 17 percent of those who took zinc felt some nausea, and a little more than a third complained of the bad taste -- but I'd say it's a small price to pay for quick, cheap, and safe natural relief from winter's worst.

And you can often prevent the nausea by taking your zinc with food.

By the way, the study is new -- but the results are not.

One analysis of 13 studies published last year found that 75 mg of zinc a day or more cut the duration of the cold by an average of 42 percent. And back in 2010, a Cochrane Collaboration analysis of 15 studies found that these higher doses cut cold duration in half.

It's no fluke. Zinc is an immune system booster with natural antiviral properties, and studies have shown it can slow, or even stop, the replication of the rhinovirus that causes the cold.

The most common form of zinc used for cold relief is a lozenge. If you choose one of these, don't bite or chew them -- let them melt in your mouth instead.

Of course, the best way to beat the cold is to not get one in the first place -- so be sure to take immune-boosting vitamins all year long.

I'll bring you more on that when cold season gets a little closer.