The unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically disrupted everyday life across the globe, closing down businesses from coast to coast and forcing millions to shelter-in-place.
It’s also convinced people to focus on their own health by taking extensive preventive measures to avoid contracting the virus. But masks, social distancing, and other common-sense strategies only go so far. Boosting the immune system is your best protection. A robust immune response is the ultimate shield to combat microscopic enemies that can penetrate even the best protective gear.
How do you vastly strengthen your immunity? Think zinc. Researchers have found over the years that zinc, an essential mineral, has antiviral properties that can help provide a significant boost to the human immune system.
First, let’s look at the role of zinc in bolstering the immune system and how it fights the spread of coronaviruses in the body.
How Zinc Can Help Enhance Immunity and Fight Covid-19
An essential mineral is so-called because it is an essential nutrient used by organisms to perform functions necessary for life. Humans need zinc, and they’re not getting enough of it. As one study in Nutrients put it: “Zinc deficiency is reported to contribute significantly to the global burden of disease.”
But zinc goes much further than simply maintaining the health of cells. Here’s what the science tells us.
Zinc Has Shown Promise Against Other Coronaviruses
Covid-19, the current virus rampaging across the world, is just one version from a family of coronaviruses. In fact, one type of common cold is caused by a coronavirus (the rhinovirus is another prime suspect in causing colds). Zinc can help with both of these viral infections.
One meta-study found that zinc supplementation helped inhibit the replication of the virus causing the common cold. Say the authors: “Zinc administered within 24 hours of onset of symptoms reduces the duration of common cold symptoms in healthy people….” Other research has found the same results in zinc’s ability to fight the common cold.
Zinc has the same effect on the virus that causes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), a close cousin of Covid-19. SARS killed thousands in a breakout a few years ago, which, in effect, was a dry run for the current coronavirus crisis happening now. According to research in PloS Pathogens, zinc inhibits replication of the coronavirus responsible for SARS in cell cultures. Supplementing with zinc may produce similar benefits against the Covid-19 strain.
By blunting the replication processes of the virus, you can help reduce the viral load, which may help limit the damage Covid-19 exerts if you’re infected.
Zinc Helps Build Stronger Immune Cells
Zinc affects gene expression, reduces oxidative stress, and acts as an anti-inflammatory on immune cells, according to an extensive meta-study in the journal Molecular Medicine. This has real-world applications against Covid-19. According to the study authors: “…in both young adults and elderly subjects, zinc supplementation decreased oxidative stress markers and generation of inflammatory cytokines.”
This is important because many people with the coronavirus are dying of “cytokine storms,” which is an over-response of the immune system in fighting invasive viruses. In fact, findings out of China and elsewhere show that cytokine storms, and not the virus itself, are responsible for many fatalities of those who contracted Covid-19. By helping reduce this uncontrolled release of proinflammatory cytokines, zinc helps regulate the body’s immune response from overreacting.
Zinc’s effects on immune cells have been supported by other research, including one study that concluded: “Zinc functions as an intracellular signal molecule for immune cells. Zinc supplementation has been successfully used as a therapeutic and preventive agent for many conditions.”
Zinc Helps Protect Against Respiratory Diseases
This is especially relevant in combatting Covid-19, which does its worst damage to the lungs and respiratory system. Zinc’s ability to help protect and heal respiratory disorders has been well-documented.
One example is an experiment on Thai children who contracted an acute respiratory tract infection (ALRI). After being hospitalized, they received infusions of zinc. As the study concludes: “…zinc supplementation improved the recovery of Thai children with ALRI and reduced their hospital stay, compared to placebo.” These beneficial effects on respiratory health have been confirmed by other studies, both with adults and pediatric subjects.
Zinc deficiency is also a feature of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A Japanese study in the journal EBioMedicine found that COPD and related disorders reduce the ability of the body to transport zinc ions to lung epithelial cells. Supplementation of highly absorbable zinc may help reduce symptoms of COPD and help improve function of the lungs.
Zinc Helps Support Immunity in Seniors, Who Are Zinc Deficient
The most vulnerable to Covid-19 are men and women 60 years and older. This is a population that could greatly benefit from zinc supplementation because they are statistically most likely to suffer from zinc deficiency. As reported in the journal Nutrients, as many as two billion people around the world and 30% of elderly populations are zinc-deficient. Of those 65 years and older, that figure jumps to 40%!
This is a serious issue. Scientists now tell us that being low in zinc is a risk factor in the elderly for contracting pneumonia. With many people developing pneumonia as a result of Covid-19, zinc supplementation would provide enormous support for helping seniors fight the disease.
With zinc deficiency a frequent precondition of many disease states, zinc supplementation should be a priority for seniors, no matter their overall health profile. But during the current pandemic, it will help provide an extra boost to their immune system when they most need it.
By Jim Schmaltz – Health and Fitness Industry Editor and Writer