Could Zinc make coronavirus worse? Here’s what a new study says

Zinc, often referred to as an “essential trace element,” is crucial to human health. While our bodies don’t need a whole lot of zinc at any given moment, it’s still very important that we provide a steady stream of zinc via our diets. Luckily, zinc can be found in a multitude of foods, including red meat, chicken, nuts, and seeds.

Zinc helps our bodies out with a whole lot, including blood clotting, immune reactions, the healing of wounds, and vision, just to name a few. Now, a preliminary new study has uncovered a potential relationship between zinc levels in the bloodstream and COVID-19 symptoms/outcomes.

Conducted in Barcelona, Spain at the Hospital Del Mar by Dr. Roberto Güerri-Fernández, the research indicates that lower zinc levels in the blood are associated with more bodily inflammation, worse symptoms, and a higher risk of death among COVID-19 patients. 

Zinc has shown some virus-fighting abilities in the past. It’s been known to impede the progress/proliferation of other viruses, such as the common cold. So, the research team set out to investigate if plasma zinc levels among coronavirus patients at the time of their admission to a hospital for treatment were indicative in any way of future health outcomes. 

To that end, a group of 249 patients who had been admitted to a local hospital for COVID-19 treatment between March 15th and April 30th of this year was analyzed. For each of those patients, researchers had access to demographic information, prior health history, the severity of coronavirus symptoms, treatment methods, and fasting plasma zinc levels at the time of initial hospital admission.

From there, a series of complex computer modeling and statistical analyses programs were used to estimate the impact of zinc levels on subsequent mortality rates.

Among those 249 patients, 21 ultimately passed away (8%). The baseline plasma zinc level for those 21 patients was roughly 43 mcg/dl (micrograms per deciliter). In comparison, the other patients who didn’t pass away from COVID-19 related symptoms showed much higher baseline levels of zinc in their blood (63.1 mcg/dl).

In addition to all that, higher zinc levels were linked to lower amounts of interleukin-6 during active coronavirus infections. That protein is a sign of inflammation, so it appears more zinc equals less bodily inflammation for coronavirus patients.

“Lower zinc levels at admission correlate with higher inflammation in the course of infection and poorer outcome. Plasma zinc levels at admission are associated with mortality in COVID-19 in our study. Further studies are needed to assess the therapeutic impact of this association,” the study’s authors write.

Next, the research team took note of the patients’ age, sex, the severity of COVID-19 symptoms, and whether or not they had been taking hydroxychloroquine. Even after accounting for all that, they concluded that each single unit increase in a patient’s blood zinc levels at the time of admission was associated with a 7% lower chance of passing away while staying in the hospital. Moreover, a plasma zinc level below 50mcg/dl was linked to a 2.3 times higher chance of in-hospital death in comparison to other coronavirus patients with higher zinc levels.

More research is necessary before any conclusive statements can be made regarding zinc and COVID-19. That being said, if these findings can be further validated, maintaining robust levels of zinc in the bloodstream could represent an easy way for everyone to better protect themselves from the coronavirus.

This research was presented at the ESCMID Conference on Coronavirus Disease.