Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cold Remedies: Zicam

I have heard these cold "remedies" mentioned quite often on Facebook.  As soon as someone posts they've got a sniffle, Bam!  "Take Zicam."  "Take Airborne."  "Take Vitamin C."

Let's start with Zicam.  Zicam, first and foremost, claims to be a homeopathic remedy.  Immediately, red flags should be going in the air on that one claim alone.  Homeopathy is bullshit.  It's basic premise is bullshit.  It is in direct violation of the laws of chemistry.  The concepts of concussing water and water memory just make it plain absurd.  But, let's set those aside for a moment.  Zicam has the following FAQ on their website.
Haven't there been studies indicating that zinc is ineffective?
And, their answer is,
Clinical studies of zinc based cold relief products that use different active zinc formulations (for example, zinc sulfate), different delivery systems and lower doses of zinc have had differing results. Zicam Cold Remedy’s combination of Zincum Gluconicum and Zincum Aceticum reduce the duration and the severity of the cold.
Um, OK.  Yes, clinical studies have shown that various zinc formulations and delivery systems have had differing results.  The jury was still out on some possible formulations when Zicam was first introduced to the public.  But the thing to note here is the argument of authority, The above paragraph basically dismisses the clinical studies and simply states that Zicam's formulation will reduce the duration and severity of the cold.  Based on what?  There was a 2003 study done by the parent company of Zicam that did find that Zinc Gluconicum was effective in reducing the duration of a cold.  Any study sponsored by and conducted by the same company that produces and markets the product should be viewed with great skepticism.

Let's look at the active ingredients.  Zincum Gluconicum has been studied as a potential for reducing the duration of a cold, but studies have either been inconclusive or deemed as flawed.  The FDA has issued the following warning for Zicam nasal sprays:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notified health care professionals about long-lasting or permanent loss of the sense of smell associated with use of the OTC cold remedies Zicam Nasal Gel and Zicam Nasal Swab. The FDA has received more than 130 reports of sense of smell loss associated with these products. Many people lost their sense of smell with the first dose; others reported a loss after multiple uses. Individuals should stop using these Zicam products and notify their health care provider if they experience a loss of the sense of smell.

As for the other ingredient, Zincum Aceticum?  The only place I can find any real mention of it is in a homeopathic dictionary that states that this is prescribed for the following indications as it related to the back:
back; skin; out-breaks on skin; pus-filled pimples; neck;
There is a second list of indications as it related to the genitals:
genitals; urethra (urinary part of genitals); pain; gnawing, biting;
Huh?  What does any of that have to do with a cold?  Or even cold symptoms?  Now, here is the gross part.  Homeopathy uses the principle of "like cures like."  What this means is that if you DON'T have any of those indications (avoidance of saying symptom), then ingesting zincum aceticum will CAUSE those indications.  That is why, if you HAVE one of those indications, ingesting zincum aceticum WILL alleviate that indication.  Got it?  Does that make any sense to you?  Let me use a different example.  If you have a rash, the homeopathic theory would suggest that a chemical that would normally cause a rash will cure a rash.  In theory, you could rub (or ingest) poison ivy to cure a skin rash.  I don't think so.

Homeopathy likes to add 'um' to its ingredients, so zincum aceticum, is basically a compound of zinc and acetic acid.  Concentrated acetic acid is corrosive and can cause skin burns and irritation to the mucous membranes.  Acetic Acid is used in small concentrations in vinegar.

It should also be noted that Zicam is sold with a formulation for Vitamin C.  Ironically, ascorbic acid, is listed as an inactive ingredient in the Vitamin C formulation.  A common form of ascorbic acid IS Vitamin C.  So, I don't think that is really helping you much.  Also, if you go to their "Ask an expert" section, it states, "And there is no evidence that vitamin C will help you get over your cold faster."  WTF?  Then why have a formulation for it?  And, to top it all off, they also state not to eat or drink citrus fruits or juices for 30 minutes after taking Zicam because, "The acids found in citrus fruits and juices can reduce the efficacy of zinc." 

Nice stuff.  I think I'll pass.


  1. Homeopathic/naturopathic remedies work with the body to help the body heal. Zicam is one of those more natural remedies that can give the body more of what it needs to fight a cold than the body normally gets. Sure, there is some chemistry involved, but it is made up of far more natural ingredients than any prescription or over-the-counter medications.

    Many people have tried Zicam and swear by it. Personally, I'd rather give it a try and be done with my cold in less than a week than to hear people complain about homeopathic remedies such as Zicam, but then continue to complain about the cold they've had for over a month.

    As far as not drinking citrus after taking Zicam... naturopathic remedies need some time to get into the blood stream. The longer the remedy can stay in the mouth, the better chance of it working as it was designed. Given that every cold my body has "tried" to get the past couple of years is gone in less than a week is testament enough for me to keep using Zicam.

    For those of you with minds open enough to check out homeopathic/naturopathic medicine, just remember to call the doctor when it makes sense. Zicam might help the body fight the common cold, but it will do nothing for a sinus infection, bronchitis, or pneumonia.

    It is nice stuff. And it will always be in my medicine cabinet.

    1. Why don't you bust out the energy crystals and magnets while you're at it?

  2. Do not confuse naturopathic and homeopathic. They are not the same thing and if you think they are, then you need to do some studying on the difference.

  3. Zicam says: “Take at the first sign of a cold for best results”.
    Well, I had a minor sore throat and figured I’d give it a try- 2 hours after I took the first dissolving pill, my so called “Minor cold” became 10 times worse! I continued for the next 6 hours to take two more (as it indicated to take it every 3 hours) and went to sleep. Now I woke up with a SEVERE cold with loss of taste and smell and stuffy nose etc... I’m not sure I get the marketing here- “take zicam when you spot early symptoms of a cold” — only to get that severe cold you didn’t want in the first place??
    Dear Zicam providers- does your medicine make the cold go away, or does it first make it much harsher? Then, you HAVE TO continue taking your crappy medicine in order to make it go away? I smell a lawsuit coming your way, if this cold doesn’t leave my body in less than 2 days- as that’s the whole reason I started taking your crappy dissolving pills in the first place due to your false advertising!!