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Could taking zinc for COVID-19 be beneficial?

A recent research paper suggests that zinc for COVID-19 may play a pivotal role in prevention and control. 

Whole grain cereals, nuts, dairy, seeds, meat, eggs, and seafood are all abundant with zinc, which plays a vital role in the immune system response. A report published in the BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health goes into detail about the role Zinc plays in antiviral immunity. 

Due to the involvement of zinc in various immune functions, Dr. J P Mossink describes that a zinc deficiency can result in several problems including; 

  • Impaired phagocytosis – Phagocytosis is the process by which certain living cells ingest other cells or particles. It is one of the first processes of responding to infection.
  • Decreased critical neutrophil functions – Neutrophils are part of the first line of host immune response against invading bacteria and viruses. 
  • Reduced number and function of lymphocytes – lymphocytes are a type of immune cell that work together to protect the body against bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. 
  • Weakened natural killer cell function – natural killer cells are a type of lymphocyte that destroy diseased cells in the body. People who are deficient in natural killer cells are susceptible to viral infections.
  • Reduced antibody production – antibodies are proteins used by the body to neutralise bacteria and viruses. 
  • Decreased IFN-γ production – IFN-γ are immune interferons that are responsible for activating the body’s immune response. 
  • Increased thymic atrophy – Shrinking of the thymus has been linked to an increased risk of infectious disease and cancer incidence.

Overall, zinc is known to enhance viral immunity, and people with a zinc deficiency are more likely to acquire viral infections and pneumonia. 

When looking at zinc for COVID-19, the patients identified at most risk of a fatal outcome from the disease are those who; are elderly, have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, cancer, or are obese. Studies show that the elderly, those with diabetes and people with obesity are all at higher risk of zinc deficiency. Also, some cardiovascular disease medications can cause zinc depletion.

The groups at highest risk of COVID-19 are already at risk of zinc deficiency which can reduce the immune response. The body only has a very small zinc reserve, which means that a sudden increased demand for zinc triggered by a virus could rapidly deplete zinc stores in patients who already have a low zinc supply.

Loss of taste and smell has been reported as a symptom of COVID-19 – this  is also an early symptom of zinc deficiency. 

This research paper highlights that the groups at risk of COVID-19 are already at risk of zinc deficiency impairing their antiviral immunity. The recommended dietary allowance of Zinc for adults in Europe is 11mg/day for men and 8mg/day for women. It is important to understand that too much zinc can also cause problems and interact with medication, so exceeding the recommended daily amounts is not advised, and you should consult your healthcare provider before taking any supplements. Dietary recommendations could be implemented to ensure all at-risk groups are protected from zinc depletion. This preventative measure could help improve the immune response to COVID-19. 

Written by Helen Massy BSc

Reference: Mossink, J., 2020. Zinc as nutritional intervention and prevention measure for COVID–19 disease. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.

Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay 



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