By Rehan Jalali Updated on April 29, 2020

Is Zinc The Immune System Savior?

Is Zinc The Immune System Savior?

By Rehan Jalali, C.S.N.

During the current coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci has been a voice of scientific reason. He says “You can’t rush the science, but when the science points you in the right direction, then you can start rushing.” Well, when it comes to zinc for immune health, the science is not only guiding us, it's pushing us towards the benefits of zinc. In fact, many doctors are using it in combination with other medicines to help with Covid-19. Anything that can help us to fight this nasty virus is definitely worth looking into!

Zinc Basics
Zinc is a micromineral that is the 2nd most abundant trace metal in the body after iron. It is involved in more than 300 enzymatic reactions. In fact, it encompasses all 6 classes of enzymes (hydrolase, transferase, oxido-reductase, ligase, lyase, and isomerase). Zinc is found in all organs and tissues in the human body. As a component of metalloenzymes, it provides structural integrity to proteins. Zinc is a part of more enzyme systems than the rest of the microminerals combined. It affects many fundamental processes of life—gene expression, cell replication, membrane stabilization—and plays a structural role in hormones such as insulin, testosterone, growth hormone, and estrogen. Zinc is also involved in fighting viruses and infections as well as supporting skin health. Some research indicates that it even helps to reduce acne. You may have heard the old folktale that eating oysters will put you in a “loving mood” (i.e., high libido), and actually there is science behind this claim. Oysters are an excellent source of highly absorbable zinc, which plays a strong role in maintaining healthy testosterone levels. Several studies have found that zinc consumption is essential for boosting testosterone. One study showed that six months of zinc supplementation actually doubled testosterone levels in elderly men. Many studies have also shown that zinc supplementation may be a potent immune system booster that may reduce the severity and symptoms of colds.

Zinc Deficiency
Before discussing the powerful benefits of zinc, let’s look at the detrimental effects of having a zinc deficiency. According to published research out of Germany, nearly 2 billion people globally are zinc deficient. I suspect it’s much more than this since zinc is difficult to test for via blood. Another important thing to remember with zinc is that the body has no storage mechanism for it so you must get it via food or supplements regularly and consistently. Daily supplementation makes the most sense unless you want to eat oysters every single day!

Effects of Zinc Deficiency
Lymphopenia and Lymphoid tissue atrophy – aka Immunodeficiency – Lowering
lymphocyte count can impair immunity and leave you vulnerable against viruses and bacteria.
Thymic atrophy – The thymus is essential for T cell development and maturation
(T-cells are important in immune response). Zinc deficiency can cause atrophy thereby lowering the body’s ability to fight infection. Aging is also a factor in lower thymic activity. Another reason why the older population is more immunocompromised.
Growth retardation – This makes sense since zinc plays a vital role in promoting
growth via DNA and RNA synthesis and cell division. And zinc deficiency reduces
IGF-1 which is an important growth factor.
Loss of taste and smell – Interestingly enough, some patients with Covid-19 are
reporting a loss of taste and smell as a symptom of their illness. Zinc may help mitigate this effect.
Loss of appetite/Lethargy – This can cause the wrong type of weight loss and feelings of depression.
Impotence – Since zinc plays an integral role in testosterone synthesis, this makes
perfect sense when there is a zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency has even been implicated in changes to brain function and depressive type effects. No Bueno! Especially during these trying times! Another important point to consider is Phytate (present in cereals, corn, legumes, and rice) can severely impair zinc absorption. Take home message: It's best to consume zinc on an empty stomach nightly before bedtime.

Zinc in Immunity and Anti-oxidant effects
Zinc has several proposed and researched mechanisms of action to improve immunity. These include delaying oxidative processes long term, increasing the activation of antioxidant proteins and enzymes (like glutathione) that scavenge damaging free radicals, enhances gene expression of two zinc finger proteins (A20 and PPAR-Alpha) with anti-inflammatory actions, NET (neutrophil extracellular traps) formation to eliminate pathogens, and blocks replicase inside cells so it stops viruses in their tracks and they can’t replicate (shown to do this with influenza and other coronaviruses)! This translates to anti-viral protection and reduced viral load. Zinc helps maintain the function of white blood cells such as macrophages and may increase macrophage activity. This can be considered the first line of defense against viruses and pathogens – think of them like Pac-Man chomping on all the bad stuff that can cause problems in the body. They recognize, engulf (phagocytosis), and destroy harmful target cells. Consider them the Terminators of the immune system. The cool thing about zinc and according to research published in the Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity is that it can act as a direct anti-oxidant by stabilizing membrane structure and a host of other interesting mechanisms of action that would require a biochemistry degree to understand. Research over the past 50 years has shown zinc’s beneficial therapeutic role in pneumonia, tuberculosis, acute lower respiratory tract infection (like you find in Covid-19 patients), common cold, chronic hepatitis C, and sickle cell disease. It significantly shortens the duration of symptoms during rhinovirus infection—hence why many of the cold and flu supplements contain zinc.

Zinc and Inflammation
One of the truly devastating effects of Covid-19 is massive and reckless inflammation via Cytokine storm (I know sounds like a sci-fi movie--Attack of the Cytokines!) and release of interleukins like IL-, IL-1, and IL-2. Well good ole zinc comes through again! A study by Gammoh, et al entitled “Zinc in Infection and inflammation” discusses zinc’s role in decreasing excess inflammation by elevating inflammatory response and dampening pro-inflammatory modulators. This may be helpful as inflammation in lung cells can cause real damage. It seems to decrease oxidative stress by lowering the production of inflammatory cytokines such as TNF-Alpha and IL-1b. By the way, inflammation has been directly linked to cardiovascular disease and heart health. This is why one of the most important parameters I test for in my practice is hs-CRP (C-Reactive Protein) which measures inflammation in the body.

ZMA® – The Chosen One
On February 18, 2002, Lebron James appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the title “The Chosen One”. When it comes to zinc supplements that get to where they need to go and work, ZMA can also be called The Chosen One! Why is it chosen? Let’s talk about the superior rate of absorption and bioavailability. One of the biggest problems with zinc is getting it inside cells where it can exert it’s powerful actions. Well never fear, ZMA is here! ZMA is a special combination of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B-6. The zinc in this product is specifically formulated as zinc aspartate and zinc mono-L-methionine which makes it incredibly bioavailable because of the two forms of chelates. The magnesium is also found in a chelated form bound to aspartate which makes it very bioavailable as well. In fact, the magnesium and zinc are "double bonded" together to the aspartate molecules which further enhances absorption and utilization. The absorption and usage of minerals is a key factor in receiving their many benefits and ZMA delivers on this front in a major way. Many doctors have been successfully using the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and zinc sulphate in combination to treat Covid-19 patients. The reason this combo works well is because the hydroxychloroquine acts as an ionophore opening a gateway for zinc to easily penetrate that stubborn cell membrane and get inside the cell. Then the zinc actually does all the heavy lifting. But guess what?—since ZMA is already bioavailable, the hydroxychloroquine may not be required. Like the warriors of old who carried large metal shields, ZMA is an internal body and health shield providing protection against the immune system diminishing trouble makers. It’s a great tool to use in your health arsenal along with a good diet, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep. It’s inexpensive and offers the biggest bang for your buck. Take 2-3 pills nightly and you’ll be on your way to better immune health!


About Author
Is Zinc The Immune System Savior?
Rehan Jalali is an internationally recognized Certified Sports Nutritionist (C.S.N.) based in Beverly Hills, Ca. He is the author of several books including “The Six Pack Diet Plan” (available on Amazon) and the “Sports Supplement Buyers Guide”. He is co-author of “The Bodybuilding Supplement Guide.” His upcoming books include “The Super Hero Diet Plan” and the “Ultimate Guide to Women’s Fitness”. As a Nutrition and Dietary Supplement expert, he has been featured in several movies including “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” and the recent “SUPPS: The Movie” on Amazon Prime Video.