Another day, another dozen or so folks asking me for a zinc recommendation to help “boost their immunity.” In the face of COVID with no trace of real leaders, I completely understand.
Zinc DOES have a role in immunity. Some folks DO have poor diets and may be a bit zinc deficient. Therefore, it may be prudent to use zinc supplements daily. We can be good using some supplements as a way to hedge our bets—to provide us insurance. Just in case. Despite what I’ve said in the past about it.
The problem is that the people telling everyone to run to the store to get zinc are neglecting the most important thing: the product reality.
As a result, too many well-intentioned people are using zinc incorrectly. Let’s set the record straight, shall we? I’ve been listening to Biggie Smalls a bit, so we’re going to do “The Three Zinc Commandments.”
I – Thou shalt not use zinc lozenges every day
Taking zinc lozenges daily, as many have, due to a meme at the beginning of COVID, can severely damage your taste buds.
Since so much food tastes so good, that would be bad.
II – Thou shalt use zinc that actually gets absorbed
Though there is little data to prove better absorption of one zinc form over another, in general, minerals are best absorbed in chelate forms.
Two such forms are zinc bisglycinate and zinc picolinate.
Chelate means the mineral is bound to something large, normally an amino acid. The result is better dissolution, and in zinc’s case, that’s good.
A chelate may result in a lower amount of zinc per capsule, but that smaller amount will be used more efficiently.
It’s not the size that matters, after all.
III – Thou shalt take it easy with the dose, man
Here’s the thing: we have a perception that because it’s a supplement, it’s “natural” and “safe.”
The reality is that most supplements are far from “natural” and almost all have some risks.
Take innocent-seeming zinc. I bet you didn’t know that doses greater than 40mg have been associated with disrupting sex hormones. Yup, zinc has shown 5-alpha-reductase AND aromatase inhibition at higher doses. It’s fine if you don’t know what those are, but they’re involved in hormone metabolism. Messing with your hormones is NOT a good idea.
Zinc lozenges will most likely deliver a dose greater than this 40mg limit, and this is another reason they should not be used for more than just a couple of days in a row.
Higher doses of zinc are linked to fever, coughing, fatigue, GI pain and more. Add in some taste bud desensitization, and all of that kinda sounds like COVID.
Dr. Neal’s Zinc Recommendation
Make a concerted effort to eat more zinc-rich foods. Shellfish, chickpeas, lentils, beans, seeds, nuts, dairy, eggs, and real, whole grains will give you AMPLE zinc. So much so that you don’t need to supplement.
Chelated Zinc, but Low Dose
If you DO want to supplement, we’re going to get the right form and dose.
I tell people to keep supplement doses to less than 30mg daily, to stay far below that upper limit.
Always Keep It Simple, Smart, and Strategic
When it comes to supplements, I believe people often take too many of the wrong supplements.
To best support our immune systems, we must follow the Wellness Pyramid. We make better health decisions FIRST, then use core nutrients with the best evidence that are often lacking in even the best diets.
Then, we can take whatever we want.
If we’re to make a decision to use THAT type of supplement, which I believe zinc-as-COVID-prevention is for most people, we must do so strategically.
Make zinc supplementation smart, simple, and strategic by avoiding misinformation, and using the lowest dose of the best forms.
Just trying to keep it real…
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth