When you’re miserable and sniffling and sneezing, you may be ready to try anything — anything — to make it stop. Or maybe you would do anything to prevent those symptoms from starting. Science weighs in on using zinc to fight and prevent colds.

Runny nose, sore throat, aches and congestion are the all too familiar symptoms of the common cold. You’ve tried chicken soup, decongestant pills and tea with honey, but your cold symptoms still stubbornly persist. Then someone helpfully tells you to try zinc. Should you? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is zinc?

Zinc is a mineral your body needs in order for your immune system to function properly, among other things. It’s found naturally in proteins, including red meat, chicken, oysters, beans and nuts.

How does zinc help you fight a cold?

Even though the research on the efficacy of zinc as a cold remedy has had conflicting results, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that, “overall zinc appears to be beneficial under certain circumstances.” In fact, several studies have shown that zinc may reduce the number of days you’re sick by inhibiting the replication of the rhinovirus (the virus that’s responsible for the common cold).

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