February 15, 2006
Subject: Zicam, the over the counter remedy for cold symptoms, can
cause loss of taste.
Over the last few months a number of people have asked my opinion of Zicam,
especially after I wrote about my favorite treatments for colds and flu.
I have always been a little hesitant to recommend Zicam simply because
their label is so misleading. Zicam claims to be a homeopathic preparation.
Technically it may be homeopathic but it is a real stretch to see it so
and that has always made me suspicious of the other claims made by the
manufacturer. Recent revelations and law suits cast more suspicion on
Zicam claims to be homeopathic Zincum gluconicum in 1 x potency.
What this means in English is that it is a 10% solution of zinc gluconate.
Typically homeopathic remedies are sold in much more dilute solutions.
For example a 6 x potency is one part in a million of the original substance.
A 12 x potency is one part in a billion. A 30 x potency is so dilute
that there isn't even a molecule of the original substance left.
This is why homeopathic medicines are considered safe; there is little
or nothing left to cause harm. In the case of Zicam, by calling
it homeopathic and adopting the homeopathic terminology, the manufacturer
found a way to market a 10% solution of zinc gluconate without FDA oversight.
In other words Zicam is just an intranasal zinc solution. Intranasal zinc
has been known to destroy the ability to smell in both animals and people.
In the 1930s, zinc compounds were used in attempts to prevent polio. About
10% of the people who received the zinc compounds lost their sense of
smell permanently. For years there had been no attempt to use intranasal
zinc in humans. However because Zincam products fall under the homeopathic
provision of FDA laws, these products are not required to get FDA approval
before they were put on the market.
By the way loss of smell is called anosmia.
It is not even clear that these products are useful for treating colds.
While two placebo-controlled trials found that intranasal zinc gluconate
modestly shortened the duration of cold symptoms two other placebo-controlled
studies found intranasal zinc to be of no benefit.
In the most rigorously controlled of these studies, intranasal zinc gluconate
did not affect the severity or duration of cold symptoms in volunteers
inoculated with rhinovirus, a common cause of colds. These studies did
find evidence of anosmia and warned about the condition. The reports stated
that since zinc-associated anosmia may be irreversible.
Earlier this month the manufacturers of Zicam agreed to pay $12 million
dollars to settle a class action law suit brought by 340 consumers who
had lost their ability to smell after using Zicam products. The
company which made $46 million dollars in the first 9 months of 2005 does
not plan to take their products off the market. Even with settling
the lawsuits the products are still very profitable.
Some people have told me they find Zicam an effective aid in treating
their symptoms. Yet if we heed Hippocrates' injunction to, First,
Do no harm, we must consider Zicam an unacceptable risk and suggest not
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