The Protective Power Of Zinc
Before we get into the ins and outs of zinc, a story:
One day, early in the 19th century, the Royal Navy came to the chemist and inventor Sir Humphrey Davy with a big problem. To protect their ships from a kind of mollusk that bored into wood, ship makers had been lining the bottoms of these vessels with copper. Unfortunately, the saltwater quickly corroded the copper, which led to costly and highly inconvenient repairs. Could Davy come up with a solution?
Davy suggested attaching a sacrificial metal to the copper. His element of choice was zinc. The zinc would protect the copper by being degraded by the saltwater, a process termed galvanization that later protected iron, steel, and other industrial metals from corrosion.
The story ends sadly for Davy and the Navy . While the zinc stopped the deterioration of the copper, it also made it far more susceptible to weeds and barnacles by providing them with nutrients that they found appealing. But it highlights the power of zinc, which can protect not only copper and iron but us as well.
Boost Immunity And Reduce Inflammation
Zinc is essential for sustaining the immune system. It helps eliminate pathogens, and a zinc deficiency can reduce this capacity. The immune system also needs zinc to produce or activate certain cells.
Meanwhile, zinc can help ease common cold symptoms. Researchers have found that these symptoms eased more quickly for participants who took of zinc acetate, in a lozenge, every 23 hours than participants who did not.
Still, determining the best dosage for people with colds requires further research.
Whats The Evidence That Supplements Are Helpful For Covid
Though COVID-19 is a new illness, a few clinical trials have explored the possibility that supplements may be effective. And, unfortunately, most of the evidence is unconvincing.
For example, a few observational studies link lower blood vitamin levels with a higher risk of testing positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 . But studies like these cannot prove that vitamin D protects people against infection. Further, a randomized controlled study of people with moderate to severe COVID-19 who received a high dose of vitamin D showed no benefit.
Similarly, a 2021 study of zinc and vitamin C demonstrated no benefit for people with mild COVID-19. In this study, people whose symptoms did not require hospital admission were randomly assigned to receive
- only vitamin C, 8,000 mg/day
- only zinc, 50 mg/day
- both supplements at the doses above
- neither supplement.
The researchers found that people receiving the supplements, whether individually or combined, had no improvement in symptoms or a faster recovery when compared with otherwise similar patients receiving neither supplement.
Proponents of melatonin for COVID-19 have encouraged researchers to perform trials of this supplement, but so far convincing evidence of benefit is not yet available.
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Linus Pauling Institute Recommendation
The RDA for zinc appears sufficient to prevent deficiency in most individuals, but the lack of sensitive indicators of zinc nutritional status in humans makes it difficult to determine the level of zinc intake most likely to promote optimum health. Following the Linus Pauling Institute recommendation to take a multivitamin/mineral supplement will generally provide at least the RDA for zinc. Daily total intakes of zinc should not exceed the UL in order to limit the risk of copper deficiency in particular .
Although the requirement for zinc is not known to be higher for older adults, many have inadequate dietary zinc intakes . A reduced capacity to absorb zinc, increased likelihood of disease states that alter zinc utilization, and increased use of drugs that decrease zinc bioavailability may all contribute to an increased risk of mild zinc deficiency in older adults. Adequate dietary intake of zinc is essential for older adults because the consequences of mild zinc deficiency, such as impaired immune system function, are especially relevant to maintenance of their health.
May Reduce The Risk Of Certain Age
Zinc may significantly reduce your risk of age-related diseases, such as pneumonia, infection and age-related macular degeneration .
Zinc may relieve oxidative stress and improve immune response by boosting the activity of T-cells and natural killer cells, which help protect your body from infection .
Older adults who supplement with zinc experience improved influenza vaccination response, reduced risk of pneumonia and boosted mental performance (
Oxidative stress leads to chronic inflammation, a contributing factor in a wide array of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer and mental decline .
In a study in 40 older adults, those who took 45 mg of zinc per day experienced greater reductions in inflammatory markers than a placebo group .
Zinc may effectively reduce inflammation, boost immune health, reduce your risk of age-related diseases, speed wound healing and improve acne symptoms.
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It Keeps Your Immune System Healthy
It appears that every immunological event relates in some way to zinc. Theres a strong connection between zinc deficiency and susceptibility to disease. A Cochrane Library meta-analysis of six studies that included a total of over 5,000 children between two months old and five years of age found that zinc supplementation reduced the incidence of pneumonia. And according to findings from a 2011 Cochrane review, zinc effectively shortens the duration and severity of the common cold .
People who are infected by Covid 19 and are zinc-deficient develop more complications, are more likely to require hospitalization, have longer hospital stays, and are more likely to die. While theres not yet enough evidence to officially recommend zinc for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19, especially in amounts that exceed the RDA, research is ongoing for its potential use, and some initial studies have been promising.
Eat Plenty Of Shellfish
Shellfish are one of the best dietary sources of zinc available. Oysters are especially fantastic as a 3-ounce serving contains over 300% of the recommended daily value of zinc12. Other common types of shellfish that are excellent sources of zinc, though significantly less so than oysters, include:
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Why Supplements Might Help Prevent Or Treat Covid
While science can show whether a drug is effective, we may not always know why. When antibiotics were first discovered in the 1920s, there was limited understanding of the biology involved. But lacking an explanation for their benefit did not discourage doctors from recommending these highly effective treatments.
If its less clear whether a drug works, biologic plausibility that is, a logical and well-understood reason why the drug should work increases the expectation that it might.
So, what suggests that vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, and melatonin might help work against any virus?
- Vitamin C is an antioxidant that has long been promoted as a key player in healthy immune function.
- Zinc may have antiviral activity, whether by improving immune cell function that counters viral infections or by reducing the ability of viruses to multiply.
- Some evidence suggests that combining vitamin C and zinc may limit the duration and severity of cold symptoms.
The cases for vitamin D and melatonin differ. While there is also evidence that vitamin D and melatonin may have positive effects on immune function, a specific antiviral effect remains unproven.
It May Promote Skin Health
In addition to wound healing, some forms of zinc may also help clear up your skin. Although acne causes are multifactorial, preliminary research indicates that zinc’s anti-inflammatory properties may benefit those with acne .
What about other skin health conditions? In one small study published in the International Journal of Dermatology,participants with rosacea were given either 300 milligrams of zinc sulfate or a placebo for three months. After the treatment period, the group taking zinc experienced significant improvements in rosacea, with minimal side effects.
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Boosts Mens Sexual Health
Zinc enables the male body to produce testosterone, which is one reason a deficiency of zinc can also lead to erectile dysfunction. Studies have shown that zinc supplementation can increase testosterone, thereby treating male sexual problems erectile dysfunction being one of them .
Consuming 15-30 milligrams of zinc per day is sufficient in preventing and correcting a zinc deficiency in most men, and if zinc is deficient, a well-absorbed supplement such as zinc bound to glycinate, citrate, or monomethionine will increase a mans testosterone level.
Another study showed that ones sense of smell could be important for libido and that zinc deficiency can decrease the sense of smell . This pretty much means that low levels of zinc indirectly decrease libido. Adequate zinc levels were also found to support prostate health.
Choosing Foods That Are High In Zinc
Zinc is found in many foods, including meat , seafood , baked beans, and fortified breakfast cereals. That may put vegetarians in a tricky spot, but all legumes including chickpeas, lentils, and beans are good sources of zinc, says Krista Linares, RD, a Raleigh, North Carolinabased nutritionist and the founder of Nutrition con Sabor. Kuhn adds blueberries, nuts, and whole grains to the meat-free list of zinc sources.
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It May Offer Protective Effects Against Cardiovascular Disease
In a 2015 meta-analysis, researchers found that zinc supplementation significantly reduced total cholesterol, LDL bad cholesterol, and triglycerides, which are risk factors for heart disease when elevated. And studies show that having adequate levels of zinc in your body may help prevent plaque buildup in your arteries, which can protect your heart.
What Does Zinc Do To Your Body
Zinc is found in cells throughout the body. It strengthens your immunity and even contributes to the production of proteins and DNA. It also helps in wound healing.
Zinc is also present in all the body tissues and is imperative for healthy cell division. It has antioxidant benefits too the mineral fights free radical damage and can even slow down aging. Thats about zinc in a nutshell. For more detailed information on the benefits, keep reading.
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Enjoy Plenty Of Seafood
Seafood is one of the richest dietary sources of vitamin D available, though amounts vary based on the type and species of fish consumed. Some of the most vitamin D rich types of seafood include:
- Canned wild-caught salmon
If your budget allows, it would be wise to consider buying wild-caught fish over farm-raised fish for both your health and vitamin D intake. When compared, wild-caught fish tend to have higher amounts of vitamin D versus their farm-raised counterparts, often making them a better option10.
It Helps Improve Blood Sugar Regulation
According to a 2015 review of both test tube and human studies, zinc has many beneficial effects on both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Specifically, zinc appears to play an important role in pancreatic -cell function, the activity of insulin, modulation of glucose, and the process by which diabetes develops and has complications.
So if youre trying to prevent, reverse, or manage diabetes, in addition to watching your weight and eating a largely plant-based diet, make sure you get enough zinc to keep your pancreas firing on all cylinders .
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Decreases Risk Of Preterm Birth
Zinc helps the body make proteins and DNA, and its needed for proper growth and development, too, according to the NIH. Because of these functions its an important mineral for pregnant women and young children, and zinc supplements may help pregnant women avoid early labor.
A review published in February 2015 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found there was a 14 percent reduction in preterm birth when pregnant mothers took a zinc supplement. But the researchers noted that this could be because most of the studies they looked at involved low-income women who may have had poor overall dietary quality and been deficient in zinc to begin with. Therefore, the reduction in preterm birth may have been the result of the supplements correcting deficiencies rather than an added benefit of supplementation.
Best says shed only recommend a zinc supplement to a pregnant woman if she had a known deficiency. But for pregnant women and young children, its important to avoid deficiency by making sure youre getting enough zinc in your diet. And its important to note that the recommended daily intake of zinc is increased for women who are pregnant to 11 mg per day for women 18 and older who are pregnant and 12 mg per day for those 14 to 18 years old who are pregnant.
Can Be Helpful During Pregnancy
Research has shown that low birth weight infants whose mothers were on zinc supplementation during pregnancy had a reduced risk of diarrhea and dysentery.
According to the World Health Organization, zinc deficiency might lead to intra-uterine deficiency during pregnancy. Maternal zinc deficiency might also compromise the health of the infant and lead to poor birth outcomes.
Population studies show that over 80% of the worlds pregnant women are deficient in zinc . Along with other nutrients such as vitamins C, D, and folate, zinc was also found to promote favorable outcomes during pregnancy as well as lactation.
Zinc is one of the most important minerals for male fertility . Low levels of zinc have also been linked to melasma .
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Health Benefits Of Zinc
In addition to its role in supporting the immune system, zinc is required for the activity of more than 300 enzymes that aid with healthy digestion, nerve function, and metabolism.
Zinc also supports brain health. Compared to other organs in the body, zinc concentration is highest in the brain. A 2017 study, published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, concluded that while there are many unknowns, changes in zinc balance in the brain may affect conditions that include age-related cognitive decline, depression, and Alzheimers disease.
Another of zincs major roles is helping the body heal. Zinc is required for cell membrane repair, cell growth, and the maintenance of healthy skin. Zinc-dependent proteins play fundamental roles within cells, including in DNA repair. For these reasons, a zinc deficiency can lead to skin problems and impaired wound healing.
Too little zinc can negatively impact your senses and appetite. According to one recent study, 35% to 45% of adults 60 and older had zinc intakes below the estimated average requirement. One set of side effects tied to zinc deficiency involves diminished taste and smell, plus poor appetite. If youve ever lost these senses due to illness, youre aware of how much they affect the appeal of food. In healthy adults, zinc plays a role in maintaining these functions.
What Happens If I Dont Get Enough
It can make children grow more slowly and delay puberty in teens. Adults who are low on zinc can have hair loss, diarrhea, sores on their eyes and skin, and loss of appetite. It also can affect a manâs sexual desire. Talk to your doctor before taking a supplement, though. These issues can be caused by something other than a lack of zinc.
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What To Eat To Help Ward Off Cancer
Zinc supplements are traditionally capsules that are swallowed whole, while zinc lozenges are essentially cough drops with zinc as the main active ingredient. Lozenges arent always well tolerated, because theyre designed to dissolve in the mouth and dont always taste great. Also keep in mind that zinc lozenges typically contain less zinc than standard zinc dietary supplements, Dr. Cole says. So if youre looking to increase your zinc intake to improve overall immune function long term, a dietary supplement may be the best, most effective option, she says. To find out if a zinc supplement may be beneficial for you, consult your healthcare team.
It Supports Immune Function
Aaron Hartman, M.D., a double board-certified medical doctor and clinical researcher, explains that zinc is essential for the function of our innate immune systemour body’s first line of defense that fights infection and targets abnormal cells . “Even slight deficiencies in this nutrient have been seen in chronic illness, recurrent infections, skin disease, and autoimmune conditions,” says Hartman.
In fact, zinc is critical for the development and function of many immune cells in our innate and adaptive immune responses. Inadequate zinc can weaken these immune defenses.
One meta-analysis that was published in JRSM Open found that supplementing with zinc lozenges at a dose of at least 75 milligrams per day reduced the duration of the common cold by an average of 33%.
“The research on the role of zinc in immune function is particularly important and relevant now due to COVID-19,” says Kylie Ivanir, M.S., R.D., of Within Nutrition. “Zinc is necessary for maintenance and development of immune cells zinc deficiency can result in increased susceptibility to disease.”
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How To Increase Your Vitamin D Intake
We’ve discussed how vital vitamin D is for your health, and it’s important to know that many factors may inhibit your ability to adequately absorb vitamin D. These include lack of exposure to sunlight, gut conditions like Crohn’s disease, colitis, liver disease, and celiac disease, and a low-fat diet. Thankfully, many dietary, supplement, and lifestyle factors can increase absorption and vitamin D levels. Keep reading to learn more.