The last six months have been an upheaval for the entire human race due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While the fight for a cure is still on and millions are still reeling under its effect; is there something that we can do to safeguard ourselves against this ghastly disease?
Having an optimally functioning immune system might as well be an answer though it’s still a debatable topic. Apart from knowing that vitamin-C helps in building one’s immunity; zinc as a supplement has taken the lead as well.
Zinc is an essential trace mineral needed in smaller quantities as the human body cannot make it, and it plays a key role in maintaining our immune system.
Why is zinc needed?
- Zinc is required for the synthesis of around 300 enzymes in our body, right from digestion, nerve function, immune function, skin health, hair health and lung health.
- A very important function of zinc is to maintain sense of taste and smell. Interestingly, loss of taste and smell has been a symptom of Covid-19.
- It’s important for gene expression. Human body needs to get smarter to deal with all kinds of new bugs which it gets exposed to. Zinc helps in DNA synthesis which makes genes get smarter in fighting these new bugs.
- Zinc is needed for normal growth and development during childhood, adolescence and pregnancy.
- Zinc promotes wound healing.
“A review of zinc provides evidence which suggests that the mineral could have protective effects against Covid-19 by boosting anti-viral immunity and curbing inflammation”
The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends the following daily intake of zinc:
- Males aged 14 and older: 11 milligrams (mg)
- Females aged 14 and older: 8 mg
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women: 11 & 12 mg
Some interesting facts and findings
- Researchers from Spain found that people with lower blood levels of zinc who were admitted to hospital with Covid-19 tended to fare worse than those with healthier levels of zinc
- A laboratory study in 2010 showed that zinc inhibited the activity and replication of another Coronavirus: SARS-COV, which caused an outbreak in 2002
- Studies have revealed that zinc reduces the length of common cold by up to 33%
Symptoms associated with zinc deficiency
- Loss of appetite
- Growth delays
- Impaired immune system
- Eye and skin lesions
- Delayed wound healing
- Delayed sexual maturation
- Affected taste and smell
- Hair loss
Who are at risk of zinc deficiency?
- Ingestion of high cereal protein intake, rich in phytate (an organic phosphate compound), which makes zinc unavailable for absorption.
- Other causes of zinc deficiency include malabsorption syndrome, conditions like cirrhosis of the liver and sickle cell disease: blood loss due to hookworm infection.
Ways to boost zinc absorption
- Eating a variety of foods will naturally boost your zinc levels.
- Non-vegetarian sources are the richest sources of zinc and their bioavailability is also higher compared to the vegetarian sources.
Richest sources of zinc
Oysters, shrimps, clams, prawns
Oysters are an excellent source of zinc. While shellfish is a low-calorie source of zinc, it contains less zinc than oysters. Similarly shrimps, clams and prawns are all good sources of zinc
Whole eggs, chicken, red meat
Meat, particularly red meat and poultry are an excellent source of zinc. It can be found in all different kinds of meat, including beef, lamb and pork. Eggs also contribute in meeting your zinc requirements
Dairy is an excellent source of zinc including host of other benefits like bone health and increased intake of protein, vitamin D and calcium
Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
Seeds contain a substantial amount of zinc, particularly pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds. They also have other health benefits like lowering blood pressure and reducing cholesterol
Almonds, cashews, pistachios, peanuts
Various nuts are also a healthy addition in your diet and can boost your zinc intake. They also bring in added benefits like reduction in factors linked to inflammatory diseases like cancer and diabetes.
Legumes and lentils like rajma, chick peas
Legumes like lentils, rajma and chickpeas are also an excellent source of zinc. However they contain phytates which can inhibit the absorption of zinc
Garlic and mushrooms are excellent low calorie sources of zinc. They are also a source of vitamins A, B6, C and K along with calcium, potassium, copper, and manganese
Whole grains like rice and oats are a moderate source of zinc and also other nutrients like fiber, magnesium, phosphorus and iron. However they also contain phytates which can inhibit the absorption of zinc. They also reduce the incidence of heart disease and diabetes.
Vegetarians are at higher risk of zinc deficiency as high cereal intake which contain phytates could interfere with zinc absorption; hence they may require up to 50% more of the zinc RDA.
The following increases the bioavailability of zinc from plant-based foods:
- Ensure that beans, seeds, and whole grains are soaked well in water for several hours before cooking them.
- Consuming sprouted grains for better availability of nutrients.
- Garlic and onions may help increase the absorption of zinc from plant-based foods.
“A daily intake of zinc is required to maintain a steady-state because the body has no specialized zinc storage system”
Important points to consider for zinc supplementation
- Zinc supplements should be taken only as per the physician’s/ dietician’s recommendation. There are various salts of zinc available as supplementation like zinc acetate, zinc gluconate, which contain various amounts of elemental zinc.
- Avoid taking zinc with other supplements like calcium, folic acid, iron and magnesium.
- Excess zinc supplementation can cause toxicity like headaches, nausea, appetite loss, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach cramps and bad taste.
- High levels of zinc can also inhibit the absorption of copper, which may result in copper deficiency and anaemia.
- Foods sources rich in zinc usually do not cause any toxicity even if eaten in large amounts.
“Our immune system is one of the most beautifully crafted system in a human body that marvels and excels all other technologies of the world. It needs to be nurtured well always in the right manner so that we have our armours ready whenever a health threat like Covid-19 shows up!!”
There is no specific food or supplement that treats or prevents a person from Covid-19 but definitely there are specific nutrients which are needed for strong immunity.