The Role of Zinc in Predicting the Severity of COVID-19

It’s been over a year since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we’ve certainly all learned a lot about this dangerous disease already. One question that keeps being brought up in both public and academic settings is, “Which factors predict the severity of Covid-19?” We all know that age and underlying health conditions play a certain role, but beyond that, little is known on the topic.
Meanwhile, a significant number of individuals of comparable age and health status who contracted the virus exhibit a broad spectrum of health outcomes. A recent study that appears in the journal Nutrients suggests that low zinc levels may account for some of these unexpected severe cases of Covid-19. Read on to learn more about the link between zinc and Covid-19 infections.

The role of zinc in the human body

Zinc and COVID-19 pills in hand
We all need zinc to stay healthy. In fact, this essential mineral is involved in several key functions in the human body: wound healing, cell growth and division, the breakdown of carbohydrates, and DNA synthesis. Notably, zinc also plays a crucial role in immune health.
The mineral has both antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, so it’s essential for maintaining the body’s defense against viruses specifically. Therefore, it’s logical to assume that low zinc levels could contribute to one’s risk of severe Covid-19 and hinder the recovery process. Interestingly, the category of people who have a higher risk of having low levels of zinc is senior citizens, the same age group that is disproportionately affected by the novel coronavirus.
All these factors combined prompted the researchers at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute and the Pompeu Fabra University (both in Spain) to investigate the correlation between the severity and progression of Covid-19 and zinc blood levels.
Zinc and COVID-19 woman hospitalized with covid-19
Dr. Robert Güerri-Fernández, one of the authors of the study, explained the mission of the study in a statement, “Zinc is an essential element for maintaining a variety of biological processes, and altering its levels causes increased susceptibility to infections and increased inflammatory response. […] zinc levels and zinc supplementation may prove useful tools to tackle the COVID-19 crisis.” More about the study below.

Can zinc levels influence the progression of COVID-19?

Since zinc is involved in the immune response and curbs inflammation in the body, the researchers hypothesized that people with low zinc levels could suffer from more severe forms of Covid-19 and possibly even stay sick for a longer period of time.
To test this idea, they looked at the data from 249 adult COVID-19 patients hospitalized between March 9 and April 1, 2020. 28% of the study participants were admitted to the intensive care unit, and 9% sadly passed away at the hospital.
The researchers took blood zinc levels of each patient when they were admitted to the hospital. Of all the patients in the study, 23% had low zinc levels. These patients were more likely to have severe COVID-19 and higher levels of inflammatory markers in their blood than their counterparts with adequate zinc levels. Moreover, participants with low zinc levels had a mortality rate of 21% whereas those with healthy zinc levels had a 5% chance to pass as a result of COVID-19.
Zinc and COVID-19 pills

What’s more, those with normal zinc levels recovered 3 times faster than participants with low zinc levels - an average of 8 days and 25 days, respectively. These results seem to suggest that zinc deficiency increases one’s risks of severe COVID-19 and slows down recovery.

To follow up on their findings, the researchers also conducted an in-vitro study confirming that higher zinc concentrations can indeed reduce the replication of the novel coronavirus. As Dr. Güerri-Fernández concluded in the study, “We have shown the importance of zinc levels in patients’ blood as an additional predictor of outcome in COVID-19, as well as its potential as a therapeutic tool for treatment.”

Even though this study is considered quite small, so we cannot draw any definitive conclusions about it, it certainly urges us to be more mindful of our nutrition habits, just in case. Since the human body cannot produce zinc on its own, we should definitely make sure that we get enough of this mineral from our diet, especially now.

Some foods that include plenty of zinc are pumpkin seeds, chocolate, turkey, egg yolks, and beef. Learn more about the signs of zinc deficiency and foods rich in zinc in the article Zinc – How to Tell If You Have A Deficiency. Lastly, if you know that you have a zinc deficiency, or suspect that you do, consult your doctor on the possibility of supplementation.

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