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Larger Dose of Zinc Lozenges May Shorten Colds


3 Star


Larger Dose of Zinc Lozenges May Shorten Colds

Our Review Summary

Here we have a story with lots of facts, but not a coherent message to consumers about whether zinc lozenges are of any benefit
in shortening cold symptoms. The title and early comments suggest this single retrospective review of existing research gives evidence that larger doses of zinc are effective, but the author of the study says more research is needed. The story’s own independent voice says this is not conclusive at all. Consumers are left without the context to evaluate this latest report.


Why This Matters

One researcher estimates that Americans spend about $40 billion per year on both over-the-counter treatments and visits to the doctor for the common cold. No wonder that any new publication should gain wide attention, but the new study (examining old studies) concluded “The effects of zinc lozenges should be further studied to determine the optimal lozenge compositions…” This story shortchanges the consumer by presenting information without much context. It exaggerates the evidence and implies that zinc is an answer.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention cost. But zinc lozenges are not expensive, costing perhaps $5 – $10 for a course of treatment.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story gives us many figures, but it may not reveal enough for a consumer to gain much insight on benefits. It says that some clinical trials comparing zinc acetate lozenges to placebo reduced the duration of colds by an average of 42 percent. But other trials, considered by the author of the research article, used zinc salts (not acetate) at a different dosage, and got results more like 20 percent. The story gives information on the duration of a cold in aggregate and in relative but not not absolute terms. Consumers are left without critical details. It could have explained 42% of what?  A week?

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The story suggests that, “No prior studies showed zinc lozenge use — even up to 150 mg per day — might cause harm aside from bad taste or constipation” We give it a pass since it does note the major side effects seen.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The tone of this story – if reported at all – should have been that  a few small studies were analyzed in an area where there have been many questions about effectiveness in the past. Indeed, the story quotes expert Lisa Winston saying “I don’t think the evidence is strong enough… that we can base clinical practice on it.” Great use of an expert to get context, but why not write the whole story to reflect this context? One could have stressed, higher up in the story, that the results are intriguing but not conclusive and based on small sets of patients.

Instead, “may shorten colds” is in the headline.  “Still no cure…but there may be a way to shorten misery” in the lede.  The story took on a cheerleading tone from the outset where it did not appear warranted.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The story says there’s no “cure” for the common cold “but there may be a way to shorten its misery.”  Yet it doesn’t discuss the fact that most colds for most people are self-limiting and of short duration.  And what is the average duration of this “misery”?

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


The story quotes the author of the original journal article and one expert. Neither of these appear to have conflicts of interest.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not talk about existing strategies to relieve cold symptoms, and so, does not satisfactorily place the new research into context. A quick look at the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases website includes these: resting in bed, drinking plenty of fluids, gargling with warm salt water, using a decongestant or saline nasal spray, among others.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

The story mentioned the “popularity of zinc supplements” but never established how popular, widespread are their use and never explained   if the lozenges on market shelves are at the same dosages as discussed in the story.

We can’t give it a satisfactory score; we’ll rule it N/A.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


There is nothing novel about zinc lozenges as an over-the-counter aid for cold symptoms. The story is about research reviewing previously published articles on the use of zinc lozenges.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


The story does not rely solely on a news release.

Total Score: 4 of 9 Satisfactory


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