Pandemic Perspective #20 – August 8, 2020
Thinking zinc? Think again.
Zinc has come out of the shadows, thanks to SARS-CoV-19. It is an essential nutrient, participating in several hundred chemical reactions throughout the body. Zinc deficiency can have severe consequences that range from hair loss to severe mental retardation and dwarfism but it is uncommon in places like the United States. It’s also vital for a healthy immune system; elderly persons may have inadequate levels of zinc, making them more susceptible to infections, especially pneumonia.
Red meat, shellfish, whole grains, beans and nuts are good sources of zinc. Supplements are rarely necessary and most multivitamin/multimineral preparations provide the recommended intake of roughly ten milligrams daily.
Because zinc is important for optimal immune function it is being studied, especially in conjunction with hydroxychloroquine, for the treatment of COVID-19. As of this date (August 8, 2020) there is no conclusive evidence that taking a zinc supplement will influence the outcome of coronavirus infection although some studies do show some benefit.
Zinc supplements have been around for years for the prevention and treatment of simple colds. There again, studies are mixed, although there is evidence that such supplements shorten the duration of a cold by a couple of days. In developing countries, where zinc deficiency is common, the benefit of zinc in preventing respiratory infections is clearer.
High doses of zinc, especially when taken for more than a few weeks, can cause gastrointestinal irritation and in persons who use an intranasal preparation, loss of the sense of smell can be permanent.
Should you take a zinc supplement to prevent COVID-19? The answer is no. If you take it when you are starting to develop a cough, sore throat or runny nose, don’t take it for more than a few days and never more than 40 milligrams per day.
If you are in a group that might be at risk of zinc deficiency (older, diabetic, vegan) a multivitamin/multimineral that provides a full complement of nutrients is a better choice. Even better is a healthy diet: fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, fish, occasional red meat – and no junk food!