Now that fall is here and the temperatures are cooling, people are spending more time indoors and the number of cases of Covid-19 are once again on the rise. We are also being warned about the added threat of flu season and the potential for a double whammy of illness. It’s more important than ever to make sure you’re eating to strengthen your immune system, including making sure you’re getting enough zinc.
Zinc is important for many of our body’s functions like helping our blood clot, making proteins and DNA, growing and maintaining our bones, as well as maintaining our skin, hair, and nails. It’s also essential for the proper functioning of the immune system, helping wounds heal, and even for proper senses of taste and smell (which interestingly seem to disappear in many people with Covid-19).
Zinc helps the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses that are trying to invade your body. It affects how your cells respond to infections, and it also helps keep inflammation under control. As pointed out in a July 10, 2020 article in Frontiers in Immunology, titled “The Potential Impact of Zinc Supplementation on COVID-19 Pathogenesis”, zinc helps protect the body from the virus entering, it directly inhibits the virus from replicating, and it also balances the immune response during infectious diseases. (Note that one of the serious problems that can occur with Covid-19 is an imbalanced immune response sometimes referred to as a cytokine storm). The article suggests there are benefits from zinc supplementation to prevent and treat Covid-19, and those with lower blood levels of zinc who end up in the hospital with Covid-19 have a tendency to do worse than those with higher zinc levels. Many studies have shown that the severity, frequency, and duration of the common cold are reduced with zinc.
The recommended daily adult requirement of zinc is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men, with an upper limit of 40 mg. It’s important not to take too much zinc because adverse effects can occur, such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and even copper deficiency. Zinc can also interfere with certain medicines and antibiotics, so it’s important to check with your doctor before taking supplements. You should also not take zinc nasally since that can cause a loss of your sense of smell.
Your body can’t make or store zinc, so it’s best to get it from the food you eat every day, which also is not likely to result in taking in an excess amount. The best source of zinc is oysters, followed by red meat, poultry, crab, and lobster. For vegans and vegetarians, there are also many plant-based foods that are good sources of zinc. These include tofu, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, beans, lentils, nuts, quinoa, shiitake mushrooms, fortified cereals, and whole grains, especially sprouted ones.
In addition to boosting your immune system and helping wounds heal, zinc helps reduce the symptoms and duration of diarrhea in under-nourished children, it helps delay the progression of age-related macular degeneration, and decreases the risk of age-related chronic diseases like cancer.
To give your immune system an overall boost, make sure you also eat foods that are rich in vitamin C, vitamin D, turmeric, and probiotics…see our previous articles on these topics.