Q: Should I supplement for colds, flu, and COVID with zinc?
A: It depends! Your current situation makes the determination. Zinc is an essential nutrient. It must come from food, because the body can’t make or store it. Women need about 8 milligrams per day, and men about 11 milligrams per day. This is easy to get from a balanced diet, but in the United States it’s estimated that 12 to 40 percent of the population and 70 percent of the elderly are zinc-deficient.
Even in small amounts, zinc must be present for many cellular and bodily functions—such as taste, smell, wound healing, growth, digestion, vision, sexual development and reproduction, DNA synthesis, and DNA repair—to work properly. Zinc is essential for optimal immune function and cancer surveillance. The individuals most susceptible to zinc deficiency are elderly individuals, lactating or pregnant women, and persons with bowel, kidney, or liver disorders.
Vegetarians may be at risk if their diets are high in raw, unsprouted seeds or heavily grain-based (maize, wheat, wild rice, brown rice, amaranth, and oats, and the “brans” of these) and legume based (peanuts, almonds, sesame), since compounds (phytates) found in these foods may decrease zinc absorption from the intestines.
The most recent analyses of zinc used for pre- vention and treatment of infections show mixed results. Zinc may be helpful in reducing the severity and duration of colds and flu. In one study pub- lished in February 2021, zinc supplementation had no measurable effect on COVID infection; while another study a few months later showed that zinc status may be predictive of COVID severity (lower levels correlated with greater COVID severity).
It’s known that zinc is necessary for many aspects of the immune responses to bacterial and viral infections, and numerous studies demon- strate antiviral activity of zinc in the laboratory.
So it seems plausible that making sure you have adequate intake to meet your body’s demand would be beneficial.
Of great significance is the association between zinc deficiency and chronic disease such as dia- betes and cardiovascular diseases. Low-dose, long-duration fortification of the diet with zinc has been shown to improve specific risk factors for certain noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), decrease insulin resistance, and improve good cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This approach to fortification mimics natural zinc intake from food and was superior to high-dose or short-du- ration zinc supplementation; it also has the poten- tial to decrease the comorbidities that are associated with the greatest risk of severe and fatal COVID infections.
God gave us a health-optimizing lifestyle that helps protect us from a wide variety of physical and mental diseases. Healthful practices such as adequate sleep, exercise, and hydration; healthy eating; wholesome relationships; stress manage- ment; and trust in God are fundamental to all health enhancements.
Unequivocally, we state that you should avoid zinc deficiency, which increases the risk of acute and chronic infections and a host of other problems. Zinc is inexpensive; low-dose, easily absorbable preparations have few side effects and should help avoid deficiency. But it can interact with certain medications, medical conditions, other supple- ments, and foods, so a conversation with your health-care provider is essential. Also, do not exceed 40 milligrams intake per day as a supplement.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.