The Possible Role of Zinc against Covid-19 and How Pregnant Women Can Make the Most of It

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What is Zinc?

Zinc is an element that occurs naturally in nature. It is an essential nutrient for humans because our bodies don’t synthesize it. It plays a role in vital processes in the human body such as lipid and carbohydrate synthesis as well as immune function. It leads to proliferation, differentiation, maturation and proper functioning of immune cells. Zinc also promotes healthy skin and hair.

The best sources of zinc are oysters, red meat, beans, nuts and whole grains. The daily recommended intake in all adults including pregnant and lactating mothers is 10-40mg per day. Children should only take 4mg daily.

Zinc and Covid-19

Scientists and the general public became interested in the possible therapeutic uses of zinc against Covid-19 when the email of a virologist and pathologist accidentally leaked. In late February, Dr. James Robb wrote to his family and friends asking them to take conscious steps to boost their immunity thereby reducing their chances of getting infected. One of his recommendations was stocking up on zinc supplements and taking them daily. This email went viral immediately after being leaked.

Though the search for the cure for Covid-19 is still on and nothing has been officially endorsed as a cure by the CDC or WHO, the good doctor was onto something for recommending zinc. A study done in 2017 linked zinc deficiency to an increased susceptibility to infections such as pneumonia, measles, tuberculosis and malaria. In addition, a study published in Lancet in 2013 showed that populations with higher prevalences of zinc deficiency also had higher rates of Upper Respiratory Tract Infections in both adults and children.

Zinc deficiency is associated with non-infectious diseases that are named risk factors for morbidity and mortality as far as Covid-19 is concerned. Zinc deficiency leads to a state of chronic inflammation that may lead to diabetes and other cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis. These diseases not only predispose one to Covid-19, but also worsen it.

Zinc was a potential agent for the treatment and prevention for H1N1 influenza (swine flu) as lab tests on infected cells showed that introduction of zinc ions to these cells lead to their death. In addition, the virus that causes Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, requires a specific protein located on respiratory cells to be able to enter and infect these cells. The protein is known as the ACE2 receptor. Earlier on in the pandemic, this receptor was the focus of most scientists who considered how the modulation of the said protein may have potential therapeutic benefits. Currently, studies are still underway.

What’s interesting is that a study in 2014 showed that zinc could inhibit this protein thereby inhibiting entry of the infectious virus in the respiratory cells. Finally, a drug that is commonly used against malaria, chloroquine, has been shown to be moderately efficacious against Covid-19 and studies are still underway. This drug works by causing an influx of zinc ions into the infected cells thereby killing them. The result is that the infected individual is cured from the disease.

Some scientists have even proposed that instead of studying chloroquine as a potential cure for Covid-19 because the drug is highly toxic, studies should focus on finding a way to cause the same influx of zinc ions into the infected cells without relying on said drug.

Therefore, while studies are still underway and more information comes to light with each passing day, there is not doubt that zinc will have a role to play. Scientists are confident that while zinc may not be proven to be the cure needed, it may play a role as supportive therapy, that is, reduce the severity of the disease without necessarily curing it. It may also play a role, albeit lesser role, in the prevention of Covid-19.

What does this information mean for pregnant women?

This is information is vital for pregnant women as according to the World Health Organization, they are particularly at risk of zinc deficiency. According to the WHO, 80% of pregnant women worldwide take inadequate zinc. Zinc deficiency predisposes one to infections while getting adequate zinc is protective. What’s more, when taken as recommended at a dose of 10-40mg, it is perfectly safe for you and your unborn baby.

As more information comes to light on the direct role zinc will play against Covid-19, taking zinc supplements daily is one of the safe and relatively cheap measures you can take to boost your immunity. If nothing else, zinc will protect you from other respiratory tract infections which can increase your susceptibility to Covid-19 and worsen the prognosis. Data for the WHO also shows that zinc supplementation improves pregnancy outcomes for both the baby and the mother.

Marlene Okoth
Dr. Marlene Okoth is a medical doctor practicing in Nairobi, Kenya. She is also a trained science writer who is passionate about providing clear, concise, lucid and accurate medical information geared towards helping people better their lives. She is particularly keen on impacting the lives of women and children through health education.

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