- A laboratory study in 2010 showed that zinc inhibited the activity and replication of another coronavirus, SARS-CoV which caused an outbreak in 2002
- Theoretically, taking zinc during the early stages of COVID-19 may reduce symptom severity and the duration of the illness, but this has not been proven
- Zinc has been shown to reduce the duration of the common cold
- Zinc deficiency is becoming more common around the world
- Other Zinc supplements should not be taken at too high a dose or for long periods as they can cause toxicity.
Zinc is an essential mineral that our body cannot make itself. This means we have to obtain it from our diet or supplements. Zinc has many important roles in our body, for example, zinc:
- Is responsible for the activity of more than 300 different enzymes in our body
- It is vital for our immune system function including maintaining the integrity of our skin and for cells mediating immunity such as neutrophils and killer cells. Studies have shown people who are deficient in zinc are more susceptible to infection
- Is required for protein and DNA synthesis Is important for wound healing
- Supports normal growth and development during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy
- Ensures the proper functioning of our senses (taste and smell).
What evidence is there to support taking zinc for COVID-19?
There have been hundreds of studies investigating zinc for the common cold. The theory is that zinc could inhibit the binding of the cold virus to cells within the nasal mucosa and suppress inflammation. Although there have been conflicting results, overall, zinc appears to be beneficial in certain forms or circumstances.
COVID-19 is a new disease, and we are still learning about it, so to date, there hasn’t been any specific studies of zinc for COVID-19, and we can only look at its effects in other conditions.
- A Cochrane review of 18 studies found zinc lozenges (at least 75mg/day) administered within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms reduced the duration of cold symptoms in healthy people. They could not make a recommendation regarding whether zinc supplementation reduced the risk of developing a cold.
- Zinc reduced the symptoms of a common cold by more than three days in 100 employees in Cleveland
- Zinc was shown to inhibit the activity and replication of another coronavirus (SARS-CoV which caused an outbreak in 2002) in the laboratory.
What are the signs of zinc deficiency?
Zinc deficiency may cause:
- Delayed sexual maturation
- Delayed wound healing
- Eye and skin lesions
- Growth delays
- Hair loss
- Hypogonadism in males or erectile dysfunction
- Impaired immune function
- Loss of appetite
- Taste abnormalities.
Zinc deficiency is difficult to measure in a laboratory because it is tightly contained throughout our body within proteins and nucleic acids. Sometimes zinc deficiency can be present even though laboratory results are normal.
Doctors need to consider a person’s risk factors (such as poor diet, presence of inflammatory bowel disease, alcoholism) together with symptoms of zinc deficiency before determining if zinc supplementation is needed.
Who is at risk of zinc deficiency?
Zinc deficiency in North America is uncommon. The following factors increase the risk of zinc deficiency:
- Age over 60 years
- Breastfeeding women
- Chronic diarrhea
- Chronic liver or kidney disease
- Gastrointestinal surgery
- Infants older than 7 months who are exclusively breastfed
- Inflammatory bowel disorders, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- Malabsorption syndrome
- Pregnant women with a marginal zinc status to begin with
- Short bowel syndrome
- Sickle cell disease
- Other chronic illnesses.
Vegetarians are at higher risk of zinc deficiency because they do not eat meat or seafood. They may require up to 50% more of the RDA to account for reduced zinc absorption because of the presence of phytates. The following increases the bioavailability of zinc from plant-based foods:
- Soaking beans, seeds, and grains in water for several hours before cooking
- Eating sprouted grains
- Eating leavened grain products, such as bread, rather than unleavened products such as crackers.
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