Lower zinc levels linked to higher risk of death from COVID-19

BARCELONA, Spain — A recent study is making a strong case for all of us to add a bit more zinc to our diets. Spanish researchers report COVID-19 patients with low levels of zinc suffer from poorer health outcomes and a higher risk of death.

For years, zinc has had a reputation for impeding the replication and reproduction of multiple viruses in the blood. However, the relationship between SARS-CoV-2 and zinc is still largely unknown. The study, led by Dr. Roberto Güerri-Fernández from Hospital Del Mar in Barcelona, is providing some much needed clarity.

Researchers conducted a retrospective analysis on a group of asymptomatic COVID-19 patients being treated between March and April of 2020. The team included factors like demography, pre-existing chronic conditions, laboratory results, and chosen treatments. They also looked at the “clinical severity” of each patient’s COVID-19 infection. Importantly, the study measured each patient’s baseline zinc levels upon admission to the hospital.

Zinc can mean the difference between life and death for COVID patients

In total, 611 patients were admitted to the hospital during this period at the start of the pandemic. These patients had an average age of 63 years-old. Over half of the group (55%) were men and 87 people (14%) passed away due to their illness. Researchers focused on 249 of these patients, 21 of whom died during the pandemic.

The average baseline zinc level among all included patients was 61 mcg/dl. For those that passed away specifically, that average was much lower, at just 43 mcg/dl. In comparison, the average among surviving patients was slightly higher, at 63 mcg/dl. Furthermore, the study reveals a link between higher zinc levels and lower maximum levels of interleukin-6. These are proteins indicating systemic inflammation during the coronavirus infection.

After adjusting for all other factors, researchers say their statistical analysis shows that for each unit increase of plasma zinc at admission to hospital, a patient’s chances of dying in the hospital drop by seven percent.

Study authors also find a plasma zinc level lower than 50mcg/dl upon hospital admission increases the risk of in-hospital death by 2.3 times.

“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,” researchers say in a media release.

The study was presented at the ESCMID Conference on Coronavirus Disease (ECCVID).