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Zinc is an essential nutrient that plays key roles in immune function. Sources of zinc include red meat, poultry, nuts, beans, and seafood. Findings presented at the recent European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Disease Conference on Coronavirus Disease suggest that zinc provides protection against COVID-19.

The study involved 249 adults (average age, 63 years) who had been hospitalized in early 2020 for COVID-19-related treatment. The authors of the study analyzed blood samples from the patients to determine their serum zinc levels and inflammatory status, as measured by interleukin-6 (IL-6).

The analyses revealed that 21 of the patients died from complications associated with COVID-19. The average zinc level among the patients 61 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL). (Normal serum zinc concentrations range between 70 and 100 mcg/dL.) Poor zinc status was linked with worse outcomes. Zinc levels among patients who survived averaged 63 mcg/dL, but among those died, levels averaged 43 mcg/dL, suggesting that zinc plays an important role in improving outcomes of COVID-19. Lower zinc levels also correlated with higher levels of IL-6, indicative of systemic inflammation.

It’s noteworthy that zinc exists as a divalent cation (a positively charged ion) and cannot enter cells without a transporter. Uptake of zinc requires an ionophore, a molecule that can transport ions across a lipid membrane. Quercetin, a bioactive compound present in a variety of fruits and vegetables, especially apples and onions, is a zinc ionophore. Consuming zinc-rich foods along with quercetin-rich foods may boost zinc’s effectiveness. You can read more about quercetin in our overview article.

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