As deaths from COVID-19 continue to hit record high numbers, it's more important than ever to take every available precaution to protect ourselves and others from contracting the highly contagious illness. In addition to being vigilant about wearing masks and social distancing, you may be wondering if taking an immune-supporting supplement, such as zinc, could help protect you against COVID-19. We spoke with experts about whether it's worth adding zinc to your daily regimen.
Peter Gulick, DO, associate professor of medicine at Michigan State University and infectious disease expert, told POPSUGAR that although there aren't any studies in humans to prove it, there have been test tube studies that show zinc is effective against viruses in general. "There was a study where zinc-coated lozenges were found to be effective against the common cold [compared to] regular cold lozenges," Dr. Gulick said.
Jennifer Haythe, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Center for Advanced Cardiac Care at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, explained that some evidence suggests zinc may reduce the duration of cold symptoms. "Whether this can be extrapolated to COVID-19, a different virus altogether, has not been shown," Dr. Haythe told POPSUGAR.
Similarly, Sotiria Everett, EdD, RD, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Family, Population, and Preventive Medicine's Nutrition Division at Stony Brook Medicine, told POPSUGAR that there isn't any hard evidence or studies showing that zinc can prevent COVID-19. However, Dr. Everett noted that there is observational evidence indicating that low levels of zinc can lead to poorer outcomes among those infected with COVID-19. "Zinc can reduce the inflammatory response," Dr. Everett explained. "It helps your body produce antiviral enzymes, and there is evidence to show it prevents viral replication. These properties of zinc indicate that it may have some therapeutic value to reduce the severity of the disease, especially among those who are deficient."
If you do decide to up your zinc intake, Dr. Everett recommends making changes to your diet rather than taking a supplement. She added that zinc is found in fish (particularly oysters), meat, poultry, legumes, and whole grains. If for any reason you can't get zinc from your diet, "a supplement would be important to make sure your immune system can respond effectively to COVID-19 and other viruses and infections," Dr. Everett said. She suggests speaking with a doctor or registered dietitian who can evaluate your diet and determine if a zinc supplement is needed.
The bottom line? Although it can't hurt to add zinc to your diet, wearing masks, social distancing, and handwashing are still the most important practices to reduce exposure to COVID-19.
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, the CDC, and local public health departments.