Zinc is the fourth most abundant metal on the planet. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, never before has so much focus been placed on this mineral. That’s because many research studies show that zinc has strong anti-viral properties.
Strong enough to prevent or cure COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-COv-2? Of course not. To date, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has only granted emergency use authorization to the antiviral drug, remdesivir (Veklury), as well as the Covid vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
However, scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals during the pandemic suggest that having an appropriate amount of zinc in your blood may help prevent Covid infection or help mitigate the severity of the disease.
And due to the fact that this mineral is pervasive in nature, most Americans have no trouble finding food with high amounts of zinc. Take beef and chicken, for instance. A 3.5-ounce serving of ground beef (roughly the size of a closed fist) contains nearly 5 grams of zinc. That’s almost 50% of the Daily Value (DV).
Many Americans, however, may be at risk for having low zinc levels in the blood. What’s the reason for this disparity?
That answer is coming up shortly.
But first, let’s take a look at why zinc is important for health, followed by some research that supports its use as an antiviral remedy….
Benefits of Zinc
According to the National Institutes of Health, zinc is essential for cellular metabolism. That means that in order for your cells to provide you with energy, zinc is a crucial cog in the complex machinery that is your approximately 37 trillion cells.
Zinc acts as a catalyst for over 100 enzymes. Enzymes break down proteins into usable nutrients. In addition, zinc plays a crucial role in wound healing, DNA synthesis, assists in fetal development, and last but not least when it comes to COVID, is required for maintaining sense of taste and smell. (Could it be that zinc deficiency is to blame for the tell-tale first symptom of COVID-19, loss of taste and smell?)
You need to obtain zinc every day from food or from supplement form. This is because unlike fat-soluble nutrients (vitamins A, D, E and K) that are stored in the tissues, zinc is not stored in the body.
Considering how much beef and chicken the average American eats, one may think that most people are getting more than their recommended daily value of zinc (11 mg for males, 8 mg for women). But because of a certain substance found in plants that’s widespread in many foods you probably eat, your body may not be absorbing zinc properly.
Keep reading to learn which common foods contain the substance that may be preventing your body from absorbing zinc…
Zinc for Immune Support
Zinc deficiency is rare in North America. But some people have suboptimal levels. And without enough zinc absorbed by the body, hair loss and mental fatigue can occur. Because of the pandemic, the greatest risk of not absorbing enough zinc is a weaker-functioning immune system.
Here’s how zinc may assist the immune system in combating COVID: In lab studies, research shows that “coronavirus replication can be inhibited by increased zinc concentration.” [SOURCE]
These promising results, which were published in June 2020, have not been duplicated in randomized clinical trials. Therefore, no conclusion can be made that zinc prevents or cures COVID.
However, there’s another potential benefit of zinc. Having enough of the mineral may prevent diarrhea and other gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms associated with COVID. That’s the finding of another research study published during the pandemic.
The authors of the study explain that zinc benefits the GI tract by strengthening the thin lining and junctions of the intestinal walls.
When zinc levels are low, the gut may become “leaky,” allowing undigested food particles and potential pathogens (like viruses) to circulate in the bloodstream, where they are more likely to penetrate the cells.
In addition, zinc may help regulate inflammation levels. Severe COVID reactions are characterized by cytokine storms, which are hyper-inflammatory reactions. A cytokine storm in the body is a blitzkrieg of an immune reaction, in which specialized immune cells destroy everything in sight rather than just the pathogenic viral invaders.
Reasons For Poor Zinc Absorption
Clearly, zinc is critical for maintaining a balanced immune response. So why is it that many people may have difficulty absorbing the mineral?
Here are a few reasons why…
Glyphosate is the most widely sprayed weed and grass killer. Over 90% of the corn, soy and wheat crops grown in the U.S. are sprayed with glyphosate. When you eat chips, bread, crackers, granola bars and almost everything else you buy from the supermarket, your body absorbs glyphosate residue.
Over 125,000 Americans have filed lawsuits against Monsanto, which created glyphosate and introduced it to the market in 1974.
How bad is glyphosate residue from food? That answer is up for debate.
But one thing is clear about how glyphosate acts in soil. It binds to nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, boron and yes, zinc, in the soil. This prevents plants from uptaking these minerals. And that means when you eat non-organic genetically-modified corn, soy, wheat and foods with cottonseed oil, the amount of zinc we take in from the crop is much lower.
Phytates are plant substances that interfere with mineral absorption. Plants use phytates as a defense mechanism, keeping insects and other pests at bay. The benefits of eating foods with phytates outweighs the negatives. But the one pitfall of phytates is malabsorption of zinc. Whole grains, seeds, legumes (beans and lentils), and some nuts are sources of phytates.
To reduce phytates in these foods, simply soak them in pure water. For beans and lentils, soak overnight. For grains, a couple minutes will reduce the phytate load.
Diuretics, certain antibiotics, and penicillin may interfere with zinc absorption.
Other reasons for suboptimal zinc levels include: gastrointestinal diseases, alcoholism, diabetes, cancer as well as sickle cell disease. In addition, vegetarians diets typically include less zinc than diets that include meat. And if you take an iron supplement, that may interfere with zinc absorption.
Should You Take A Zinc Supplement?
The best way to know is to consult with your doctor, especially if you take medication. Zinc supplements may interfere with certain prescription drugs. Tell your doctor that you read that zinc may be helpful in preventing virus replication and that you want to make sure your levels are not only adequate but optimal.
To increase zinc absorption, don’t use Roundup weed killer in your garden, eat organic produce (yes, it’s more expensive, but well worth it) and minimize your intake of snack foods. Although red meat and chicken are excellent sources of zinc, keep your intake of meat moderate. Try to completely avoid heavily-processed meats like cold-cuts as well as blackened and charred meats; these are proven carcinogens.
If you love eating shellfish, great news! Oysters are the best natural source of zinc.