Zinc: the new wonder drug for immune boosting or all hype?

Zinc is a nutrient that people need to stay healthy and is found in cells throughout the body. Zinc is important in that it helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses. The body also needs zinc to make proteins and DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Zinc also helps wounds heal and is important for proper senses of taste and smell.

But did you know the consumption of too much zinc can result in a decreased sense of taste? This is especially important to know given this is a symptom of Covid- 19. Use of nasal sprays and gels that contain zinc has been associated with the loss of the sense of smell, in some cases long-lasting or permanent. Currently, these safety concerns have not been found to be associated with oral products containing zinc, such as cold lozenges.

Zinc can be found in many foods including oysters (which are the best source of zinc), red meat, poultry, seafood such as crab and lobsters, and beans , nuts, whole grains and dairy products. Zinc is also present in almost every multi vitamin or mineral dietary supplement.

Zinc has been studied and scientists are learning about its effects on the immune system , researching connections between zinc and certain health problems:

Immune system and wound healing

The body’s immune system needs zinc to do its job. Older people and children in developing countries who have low levels of zinc might have a higher risk of getting pneumonia and other infections. Zinc also helps the skin stay healthy. Some people who have skin ulcers might benefit from zinc dietary supplements, but only if they have low levels of zinc.

The common cold

Some studies suggest that zinc lozenges or syrup (but not zinc dietary supplements in pill form) help speed recovery from the common cold and reduce its symptoms if taken within 24 hours of coming down with a cold. However, more study is needed to determine the best dose and form of zinc, as well as how long it should be taken before zinc can be recommended as a treatment for the common cold.

A word of caution though as it is possible to get too much zinc. Signs of too much sync include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. When people take too much zinc for a long time, they sometimes have problems such as low copper levels, lower immunity, and low levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol).  Check out this link From the National Institute of Health for daily limits for specific ages for the upper limits of zinc to be taken. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-Consumer/ .

***Caution should also be taken as zinc can interact or interfere with medications such as antibiotics, and hydrochlorothiazide. be sure to check with your health care provider about any dietary supplements and medications you take to check for potential interactions.

Wishing you health in 2021!


National Institute of Health / NIH

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