• Vishesh Jain

Potential role of zinc in COVID-19 prophylaxis and treatment

Updated: Feb 22

Potential role of zinc in COVID-19 prophylaxis and treatment

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) presents the biggest modern health challenge for the world. At present, there are no vaccines or drugs approved to treat or prevent COVID-19. Many debates and discussions are going on the possible role of zinc in mitigating COVID-19. The administration of zinc supplements can enhance antiviral resistance and restore depleted immunity or improve normal immune response, particularly in immunocompromised or elderly patients.

What is zinc?

Zinc is the second most abundantly distributed trace mineral in the body. It is an essential mineral that the body cannot produce; hence it has to be obtained from the diet or supplements. According to the National Institutes of Health, oysters are the best source of zinc. Other good sources include red meat, beans, nuts, certain types of seafood (such as shellfish), whole grains, and dairy products. A deficiency in this nutrient significantly affects your immune system’s ability to function, resulting in increased susceptibility to inflammatory and infectious diseases.

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The Zinc-COVID-19 link

Studies on the direct effect of zinc (Zn) on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 precisely are limited, but zinc demonstrated a significant impact on certain viral infections in the past. Increased intracellular Zn concentrations efficiently impair replication of various RNA viruses, e.g., by interfering with correct proteolytic processing of viral polyproteins. Recent trials have indicated the efficiency of Chloroquine (CQ) and its metabolite Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) antiviral activity as a treatment of COVID-19, although the mechanisms of its antiviral activity require further investigation. Besides direct antiviral effects, these anti-malarial drugs specifically target extracellular Zn to the intracellular lysosomes, interfering with RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) activity and virus replication. These findings demonstrate that Zn supplementation may potentially benefit the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

Zinc is also associated with risk factors for severe COVID‑19, including aging, immune deficiency, obesity, and diabetes since these are known risk groups for Zn deficiency. Therefore, Zn may have a protective effect by reducing inflammation, preventing ventilator‑induced lung injury, modulation of antiviral and antibacterial immunity.

How to Take Zinc?

It is best to check with your doctor first about the supplements and medicines you take, as some may interact with certain medications or are unsuitable for some people. As for dosage to achieve optimal immunity, the recommended daily dosage for adults is typically 15–30 mg of elemental zinc per day. Taking zinc long-term is safe for healthy adults, as long as the daily dose is under the set upper limit. For adults, the upper limit of zinc in oral supplements is 40mg per day, and for children, it is 4mg per day. Excessive doses may interfere with copper absorption, which could increase your infection risk.

Though zinc supplements may strengthen the immune system, they should not and cannot be used to replace a healthy lifestyle. For protection against COVID-19, following hygiene rules is crucial. It is also essential to have a well-balanced diet, get enough sleep, do regular workouts, and avoid smoking to help keep your immune system healthy and reduce your risks of infection and disease.

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