To recap from recent posts – zinc is needed for thymus gland function, which is needed to make antibodies; zinc is needed for immature T-cells to mature into immune cells that can kill infectious pathogens or infected cells; zinc is needed to make bitter taste receptors which are needed for many functions throughout the body in addition to being on our tongue and sensing the bitter tasting phytonutrients in our foods, or bitter tasting toxins which we need to avoid.
Older adults may need about double the zinc that is the US recommendation (it is the same for all adults) in order to have thymus gland function. (5) Excess zinc can build up to a toxic level but that is more likely to occur in amounts of 50 milligrams/daily or more regularly.
In Covid-19 it has been found that zinc deficiency is more common for patients with more severe symptoms. The author’s words:
- “Patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) had significantly low zinc levels in comparison to healthy controls.
- Zinc deficient patients developed more complications (70.4% vs 30.0%, p = 0.009).
- Zinc deficient COVID-19 patients had a prolonged hospital stay (7.9 vs 5.7 days, p = 0.048).
- In vitro studies have shown that reduced zinc levels favour the interaction of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) spike protein and likewise that increased zinc levels inhibit ACE2 expression resulting in reduced viral interaction.”
- COVID-19: Poor outcomes in patients with zinc deficiency. (Jothimani et al, 2020) (1)
Zinc deficiency having a role in more severe COVID19 illness was suspected earlier in the outbreak and details about the correlation between the symptoms is available here: (6).
Some good news – early treatment, within four days of symptom onset, using hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), zinc and the antibiotic azithromycin, was found to reduce mortality rate significantly for patients with COVID-19 and no heart problem side effects were experienced by the patients using the experimental protocol (HCQ/zinc/az.). (2)
More good news – there does seem to be T-cell immunity for people who have had other coronavirus infections in the past. (3) T-cell immunity is more flexible than antibody/antigen type of B-cell immunity. T-cell immunity tends to react against a group of similar type pathogens.
Phytonutrient rich foods or some types of phytonutrient supplements, and zinc and other nutrients, can help the body’s immune system to make a beneficial balance of T-cells instead of having more inflammatory types that are less helpful against a direct intracellular infection such as a virus. See this document for more details on foods and supplements that may help the immune T-cell function: (4)
Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.
- Dinesh Jothimani, Ezhilarasan Kailasam, Silas Danielraj, et al., COVID-19: Poor outcomes in patients with zinc deficiency. International Journal of Infectious Diseases, Vol 100, Nov 2020, Pages 343-349 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S120197122030730X
- Roland Derwand, Martin Scholz, Vladimir Zelenko, COVID-19 outpatients – early risk-stratified treatment with zinc plus low dose hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin: a retrospective case series study. Int J of Antimicrobial Agents, Available online 26 October 2020, 106214 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924857920304258
- Peter Doshi, Covid-19: Do many people have pre-existing immunity? BMJ 2020;370:m3563 https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3563
- Depew J, Foods and phytonutrients that may benefit T cells. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1wXIZfyynEWAvTyOhvPX-iI7QJ5jyHbAj8t5yA0p-55Y/edit?usp=sharing
- Cabrera ÁJ. Zinc, aging, and immunosenescence: an overview. Pathobiol Aging Age Relat Dis. 2015;5:25592. Published 2015 Feb 5. doi:10.3402/pba.v5.25592 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4321209/
- Inga Wessels, Benjamin Rolles, Lothar Rink, The Potential Impact of Zinc Supplementation on COVID-19 Pathogenesis. Front. Immunol., 10 July 2020 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2020.01712 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2020.01712/full