While research to date has been positive, in regard to zinc for respiratory infection, the BMJ concluded…
Coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and sore throat. These are all signs of the common cold, but they could also signal that a respiratory tract infection has set in. In the case of the latter, a doctor visit may be in order. However, a recent study reports that taking zinc for respiratory infection might also help, both as a treatment and preventative, which is important because this category of illness is highly prevalent.
High respiratory disease prevalence
Respiratory diseases are among the leading causes of death and disability globally, with acute lower respiratory tract infections specifically being within the top three according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Lower respiratory tract infections are those that impact portions of the respiratory system below the larynx, such as the bronchial tree and lungs.
Upper respiratory tract infections — those that affect the nose and throat — are also highly prevalent, accounting for more than 42% of all illnesses annually. Infections in the upper respiratory tract are especially dangerous for children under five and the elderly as these two age groups have the highest mortality rates.
Part of what makes respiratory illnesses so problematic is that, in many cases, they are spread through droplets in the air. This can make it easy to come in contact with the virus at work, while getting groceries, during a restaurant meal, or any other time you’re in public. While social distancing practices may reduce transmission, one study suggests that it’s possible that zinc can play a role as well.
Zinc for respiratory infection
On Nov. 2, 2021, BMJ Open published a systematic review of 28 randomized controlled trials. In total, these trials involved 5,446 subjects and looked at whether zinc for respiratory infection in some form had any effect on development or progression.
Regarding prevention, it found that consuming zinc orally or intranasally was able to prevent five infections for every 100 persons when compared to a placebo. The study also noted positive findings when using zinc after an infection was present.
People taking zinc tended to resolve their symptoms two days faster, significantly reducing the severity of the illness after just a couple of days of starting a zinc regimen. Conversely, 19% of those not taking zinc still had respiratory tract infection symptoms seven days later.
Zinc’s numerous other benefits
The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) reports that zinc serves many important functions within the human body. It plays a role in protein synthesis, DNA synthesis, and cell division. It also assists with wound healing, can delay the progression of age-related macular degeneration, and is needed for healthy growth and development — even impacting a person’s ability to properly taste and smell.
Research further suggests that zinc might aid in the treatment of acne and without the side effects of other medications, some of which include skin dryness and fetal defects. Though more research is needed, other studies have connected lower zinc levels with an increased risk of hair loss.
High-risk zinc deficiency groups
The ODS adds that some people have a higher risk of zinc deficiency or inadequacy due to either not consuming enough of this nutrient or not being able to effectively absorb the zinc that is consumed.
- Individuals with a digestive disorder, such as Crohn’s disease ulcerative colitis, and short bowel syndrome
- Individuals with select chronic illnesses, some of which include chronic liver disease, chronic renal disease, and sickle cell diseases
- Individuals who’ve had gastrointestinal surgery
- Individuals experiencing chronic diarrhea
- Women who are pregnant or lactating
- Infants consuming breastmilk only
Recommended zinc intake
The recommended daily allowance for adults is 11 mg of zinc daily for males and 8 mg for females. Women who are pregnant or lactating need slightly more at 11 mg and 12 mg, respectively.
Zinc can be found in a variety of foods ranging from oysters and beef to baked beans and breakfast cereal. Zinc intake can also be bolstered with the help of a supplement. Either way, the ODS recommends not consuming more than 40 mg daily long-term as this is associated with adverse health effects.
While research to date has been positive, in regard to zinc for respiratory infection, the BMJ concluded, “And how exactly zinc might exert its therapeutic effects on respiratory infections, including COVID-19, warrants further research.”