Zinc and COVID-19 infection

For some time, conflicting information has been circulating in the media: on the one hand, that zinc helps, on the other hand, that zinc supplementation during the infection period is pointless. A few days ago in Poland the drug – chloroquine has been registered. Effective mechanism of this drug is based on transporting the zinc ions inside the cell.

The virus is a kind of cell parasite, it does not have its own metabolism, it is completely dependent on host cells. It penetrates inside the cells. In the case of coronavirus it attacks the cells of the respiratory system, e.g. lungs, where it begins to multiply. Coronavirus is an RNA virus. That means it replicates copies of its own genetic material – RNA, using a replicase enzyme (RNA-dependent replicase / RNA polymerase). The replicase begins to produce multiple copies of the virus. The more viruses will multiply, the more infected host cells will be. Massive immune response and cytokine influx will cause havoc in lung cells, which is associated with worse disease course and may result in the patient’s death. By stopping the virus replication process, it would be possible to alleviate the symptoms of the disease and reduce mortality. It turns out that zinc inhibits replicase’s activity. An obstacle to the action of zinc is the problem with the penetration of this element into the cell. What is needed here is a substance that causes the zinc to transfer from the external environment of the cell to its interior, where the virus potentially replicates. These substances are so-called ionophores, and their function is to transport ions through the cell membrane. Ionophores include hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.

Hydroxychloroquine (the commercial name is Plaquenil or Quensyl, successfully used in Korea) and chloroquine (the commercial name is Arechina, recently registered in Poland) belong to substances that potentially fight coronavirus. In Korea, hydroxychloroquine has always been given to the patients along with zinc – good treatment results and reduction in mortality have been reported. In Poland, chloroquine will be administered in hospitals, while Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine) is available in pharmacies. Before you take this medicine, remember that it also has side effects. It can affect conduction in the heart (so-called QT interval), therefore the decision to take the drug should be made by the doctor taking into account all therapies and other medications taken, with ECG control. Hydroxychloroquine is less toxic than chloroquine, however, in the case of short-term use (several days) during an acute infection, the differences in toxicity are probably not very significant. In the case of zinc – it is not known what doses should be used and for whom or whether supplementation is needed at all. However, it is usually not known if the patient has sufficient levels of zinc in the body. According to research, zinc deficiencies occur quite often, therefore supplementation seems to be a rational approach.

Signs of zinc deficiency:

– dry skin, bad condition of the hair and nails (in the absence of other problems, e.g. with thyroid gland or iron levels),

– worsened wound healing,

– weakened immunity, a history of hard infections,

– hormonal disorders, e.g. low testosterone,

The cause of zinc deficiency can also be an excessive load of heavy metals in the body. The greatest amount of zinc in the diet is found in animal source foods, therefore people who have been on a vegetarian or vegan diet for a long time should supplement zinc.

Zinc supplementation during the infectious period is not a mistake. Zinc can be overdosed, but only by taking very high doses for a long time. Short-term zinc supplementation, even in people with normal zinc levels, does not have a negative impact on health, and may additionally support the immune system, which largely depends on the zinc level in the body to function properly.

The aforementioned ionophores also include noteworthy natural substances, devoid of toxicity, such as:

– quercitin (plant flavonoid, found in many fruits and vegetables) – supports the immune system  and increases the effectiveness of treatment of viral infections,

– phosphatidylcholine (a phospholipid that builds cell membranes, contained in lecithin) – necessary for the proper work of the nervous system, mitochondria, immune system and also helps to detoxify the body.

To sum up: zinc is an element that inhibits the multiplication of coronavirus, it is worth to consider its supplementation. Drugs used to fight coronavirus infection use the mechanism of zinc entering the cell. Also the use of natural substances, that act similarly to chlorocholine and hydroxychlorocholine, can be an additional weapon in the fight against infections.

Dr. Chris Majdyło