Zinc, a common nutrient, has seen an uptick in interest as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Doctors testing hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the virus, for example, have added zinc supplements to the cocktail of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, or Z-Pac, administered to patients.
“From my perspective, we use it a lot with elderly people for wound healing,” said Dr. Robin Armstrong, medical director of The Resort at Texas City nursing home, where he has been treating 39 residents for COVID-19 in recent weeks.
“I know it’s harmless, and there are some small studies that show it helps with morbidity and mortality,” Armstrong said.
Neuroscientist Chris Frederickson, a retired professor at University of Texas Medical Branch, has made a career of researching and championing zinc, earning the honorary title “Dr. Zinc” among other professionals in the specialized field of zinc studies.
“Zinc is one of the most potent viricides in nature,” Frederickson said, adding that it has been used by humans since 1500 BC as a disinfectant on cuts and open wounds, killing bacteria and viruses for a very long time.
Within the human body’s immune system, cells excrete zinc when they detect a bacteria or virus, Frederickson said.
Put simply, the body needs zinc to ward off infection, Frederickson said. And in modern times, many of us are zinc deficient — thus the need for supplements, he said.
Some medical information sites, such as the Mayo Clinic online, slightly disagree with that assessment, however, stating that most Americans have enough zinc in our bodies as a result of meat-eating diets.
But Frederickson argues the highest amounts of zinc, from large quantities of oysters and beef, are either too expensive or not available to much of the world’s population and supplementing with zinc will keep those immune cells firing.
Populations vulnerable to zinc deficiency, scientists agree, are pregnant and lactating mothers, vegetarians and young children. He recommends supplementation with zinc gluconate tablets.
Commonly known zinc products are calamine lotion and zinc diaper rash products, both proven over many years to fight off infection, Frederickson said.
And while Armstrong said he didn’t know the pathophysiology of how zinc works with hydroxychloroquine, Frederickson posed a theory.
“The beauty of the medicine hydroxychloroquine is it lets ions, like a zinc ion, get into a cell,” Frederickson said. “Combined, you’ve got the perfect bullet. That’s why they’re combining hydroxychloroquine with zinc. Some doctors are using up to 100 milligrams a day.”
A tolerable intake level of zinc supplement, the most an adult should take, is 40 milligrams, according to the National Institutes of Health’s dietary supplement guidelines. Zinc toxicity resulting in diarrhea and other side effects is possible with higher doses, the guidelines warn.
Frederickson takes about 50 milligrams a day, he said. Cathy Frederickson, his wife and business partner in two enterprises — NeuroBioTex, a scientific research company, and the International Academy of Metals and Micronutrients, a nonprofit — has developed a line of zinc-enriched cookies and teas, “Aunt C’s,” sold at some local businesses.
They hope to manufacture and distribute the products commercially in the near future, they said.