How to Survive the Cold and Flu Season: Zinc

How to Survive the Cold and Flu Season: Zinc

How to Survive the Cold and Flu Season: Zinc

By Dr. Val


One of the major minerals required to stay healthy is zinc. This mineral must be consumed in the diet because it is not stored by the body. Since zinc is required for a host of processes, knowing the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) is important, especially during cold and flu season. It is recommended that adult males take 11mg a day and adult females take 8mg (11-12mg during pregnancy and lactation). Zinc is used in DNA and protein synthesis, wound healing, cell division, for proper immune system function, growth and development, and for proper taste and smell. That taste and smell part has to do with your ability to sense tastes and smells, not with you smelling or tasting good to someone else.


Oysters are famous for being full of zinc but it is also found in red meat, poultry, crab, lobster, beans, nuts and grains. Whole grains can contain, which bind zinc so that it isn't absorbable. Vegetarians usually require supplementation of about 50% more zinc than meat-eaters. Some disease states are known to cause an increased zinc requirement. Usually people who eat a normal, varied diet have no problem getting enough zinc. A zinc deficiency state can occur if certain disease states are prolonged, the person isn't eating, or if the diet contains a high amount of zinc-binding phytates.


Zinc has long been recommended as an adjunct to help with colds and flu but studies have shown that its best effect is that of boosting the immune system so viruses are not contracted in the first place. Some of the studies have shown that zinc supplementation can lessen the duration and severity of cold or flu; the amounts studied have been between 10-15mg every two to three hours. It is generally recommended that a daily total of 50-100mg zinc for one week, taken at the beginning of a cold or flu infection, can reduce both duration and severity of the infection.


The type of zinc one takes can make a difference; it's all about absorption. If the body can't absorb it, it can't use it. The plant-based zincs, such as zinc gluconate, zinc orotate, and zinc acetate are mildly effective and more readily absorbed, zinc sulfate is used for macular degeneration, zinc oxide is reserved for skin lesions (topical application) and elemental zinc usually isn’t used because it can cause nausea and diarrhea. Because zinc competes with copper and iron, prolonged use of higher doses of zinc can lead to copper or iron deficiency. Symptoms of zinc overdose include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, impaired immune function, headaches, gastrointestinal discomfort, and loss of appetite.


Lab tests are notoriously unreliable for determining accurate zinc levels because zinc is used in so many body processes and is not stored in the body. There is a "zinc tally" available that assesses zinc deficiency by taste: if you can't taste it, you are zinc deficient. The zinc tally also can be ingested by those who are zinc deficient, as a means of supplementation. Those who have adequate zinc levels have a tendency to have projectile spitting of the zinc tally, rather immediately.


The bottom line with using zinc for cold and flu relief is pretty simple: maintain adequate zinc levels in the body and supplement with a little extra as soon as you feel yourself coming down with cold or flu. The higher level of zinc should only be done under a doctor's care as this is definitely a case where "if some is good, more is better" can lead you down a very hard road.


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