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The NHS is bracing itself for a tougher than normal winter this year as a perfect storm of problems threatens to overwhelm the public healthcare system. Respiratory infections are predicted to surge after prolonged Covid lockdown restrictions have left immune systems ill-prepared. However, a new study published in the journal BMJ Open should help allay some concerns.

The key finding is that taking a zinc supplement may cut how long respiratory infections last, aldactone doses for acne while also easing symptoms.

The new study of 28 existing studies involving almost 5,500 people found that taking zinc by mouth or as a nasal spray could ward off infection and may speed up recovery.

Respiratory tract infections (RTIs) are infections of parts of the body involved in breathing, such as the sinuses, throat, airways or lungs.

Symptoms of an RTI include a cough – you may bring up mucus (phlegm), sneezing and a stuffy or runny nose.

The new research, in the journal BMJ Open and from experts including from Western Sydney University, did not include data specifically related to COVID-19 cases.

It found that, compared with placebo, taking zinc could prevent five RTIs in 100 people per month, while on average symptoms resolved two days earlier if zinc was taken as a spray or under-the-tongue formula.

Overall, 19 more adults per 100 were likely to still have symptoms seven days into their illness if they had not taken zinc.

Meanwhile, there were “clinically significant” reductions in how people graded their symptoms three days into their illness.

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The authors concluded: “In adult populations unlikely to be zinc deficient, there was some evidence suggesting zinc might prevent RTIs symptoms and shorten duration.

“The comparative efficacy/effectiveness of different zinc formulations and doses were unclear.”

The authors said more research was needed into zinc before definitive conclusions can be drawn and pointed to the low quality evidence in some of the studies.

Some people taking zinc in the research also said they felt sick or suffered mouth or nose irritation.

The most common zinc formulations used in the study were lozenges followed by nasal sprays and gels containing either zinc acetate or gluconate salts.

The researchers concluded that zinc is “a viable ‘natural’ alternative” for managing RTI symptoms at home, though they could not glean an ideal dose from the data.

“(Zinc) also provides clinicians with a management option for patients who are desperate for faster recovery times and might be seeking an unnecessary antibiotic prescription,” they added.

“However, clinicians and consumers need to be aware that considerable uncertainty remains regarding the clinical efficacy of different zinc formulations, doses and administration routes, and the extent to which efficacy might be influenced by the ever changing epidemiology of the viruses that cause (respiratory tract infections).”

Good sources of zinc include:

  • Meat
  • Shellfish
  • Dairy foods – such as cheese
  • Bread
  • Cereal products – such as wheat germ.

“If you take zinc supplements, do not take too much as this could be harmful,” warns the Department of Health and Social Care.

The amount of zinc you need is about:

  • 9.5mg a day for men (aged 19 to 64 years)
  • 7mg a day for women.

“You should be able to get all the zinc you need from your daily diet,” notes the NHS.

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