Zinc: The Missing Element in the HCQ/COVID-19 debate

It has been known, ever since 1984, that zinc is an effective virus fighter. That year a research study discovered that taking zinc gluconate lozenges early in the course of a common cold could shorten it. After a series of apparently conflicting research studies, a 2012 review of the literature concluded that taking zinc early reduces the duration of a common cold by an average of 1.65 days. Since colds are mild virus infections, it is clear that zinc has anti-virus properties.

Zinc and COVID-19

When the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) virus pandemic began, one of the glaring facts apparent to those who were familiar with the zinc research was that at least two of the three groups in the United States that were known for having zinc deficiencies (elderly people and Black Americans) were contracting and dying from COVID-19 at much greater proportions than the general public. There are no statistics available on the third group (vegans), but there is an anecdotal report of a young and robust vegan getting a severe case of COVID-19.

Correlation is not causation, and there are other reasons why African Americans and elderly people might be the most vulnerable. But medical researchers have long known some of the mechanisms through which zinc fights virus infections within the cell. In an excellent YouTube video from March 6, 2020, Dr. Seheult illustrates and explains the inner workings of COVID-19 within the cell and how zinc within the cell fights it.

On April 7, two Belgian researchers, Amir Noeparast and Gil Verschelden, published a research paper in which they discussed the research results about the relationship between zinc deficiency and COVID-19. The evidence that they marshal is impressive:

  1. Zinc deficiency is prevalent. “Up to a fifth of the global population is estimated to suffer from different degrees of Zinc deficiency. In the western world, Zinc deficiency is more prevalent among the geriatric population, and vegans/vegetarians as well as among people with certain underlying conditions. Notably, the early reports show that the elderly SARS-CoV-2 patients are among those with a higher fatality rate.”
  2. Women’s bodies make better use of zinc. “It is reported that among the geriatric female population, a gene polymorphism that leads to an increased immune response-mediated release of Zinc is associated with decreased IL-6 level” and thus reduced incidence of fatal Cytokyne Storms.
  3. ARDS is more common in people with zinc deficiencies. “Zinc deficiency is associated with an increased risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in humans.”

Thus the evidence shows that ability to utilize the available zinc can explain the lower number of deaths of women from COVID-19-induced Cytokyne Storms. Also zinc-deficiency may directly contribute to another cause of death from COVID-19, ARDS.

The HCQ-Zinc Connection

The problem with zinc taken orally is that it doesn’t always find its way into cells. That’s why Dr. Seheult in his video and the two Belgian researchers in their research paper focused upon a group of chemicals that may serve as zinc ionophores. These chemicals help transport zinc into the cell through the lipid outer wall that protects the cell. Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and its close relative chloroquine (CQ) are the zinc ionophores that have been in the news lately.

According to the two Belgian researchers, research is inconclusive as to whether CQ is effective at getting zinc through the cell walls and into the lysosomes within cells where it could prevent virus replication:

In 2014, a Chinese cancer study by Xue et al. reported that CQ increases zinc uptake in ovarian cancer cells and mediates zinc accumulation into the lysosomes of these cells. In contrast, a Korean study conducted by Seo et al. partially contradicts findings of Xue et al., though in a different context and a separate cell line (adult retinal pigment epithelial cells).

In contrast to the conclusion of Xue et al., Seo et al. reported that Chloroquine decreases the free zinc levels in lysosomes. However, they still observed some increased intracellular zinc levels upon CQ treatment compared to the control group.

Therefore, we acknowledge that whether CQ/HCQ are global zinc ionophores mediating intracellular uptake of zinc by cells of different origins, at this stage, should remain an open question and the subject of further investigation.

The two Belgian researchers conclude that zinc should always be given to patients whenever HCQ is administered, because:

Even if CQ or HCQ does not turn out to be zinc ionophore, it would still be possible that Zinc can exert an anti-SARS replication effect independent of CQ/HCQ. Patients with zinc deficiency would likely be deprived of this additive effect.

If further data suggests that CQ/HCQ are zinc ionophores mediating zinc uptake into the SARS-CoV-2 infected cells, one can postulate combining zinc supplements with CQ/HCQ or at least zinc correction in zinc-deficient patients could be beneficial.

However, if the new data suggest that CQ/HCQ is interfering with zinc uptake into the SARS-CoV-2 infected cells or in an organelle such as lysosomes — in line with findings of Seo et al. combining zinc correction or zinc supplementation with CQ/HCQ might be even highly essential.

Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, a medical doctor in up-state New York, used a cocktail of zinc, HCQ and an antibiotic to successfully treat COVID-19 when it raged through a Hasidic Jewish community that he serves. He didn't prescribe anything to those who were young and healthy, but he treated 200 of the others with his cocktail with excellent results: zero deaths, only four needing hospitalization for pneumonia and only two needing hospitalization for intubation on a respirator.

Despite Zelenko’s success, not a single controlled study has tried out the combo of HCQ with zinc. Instead they have either tried HCQ by itself or paired it with an antibiotic such as azithromycin.

On April 21, Dr. Fauci’s institute National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) recommended against using the combination of HCQ and azithromycin for treating COVID-19 due to irregular heartbeats that can result. It based its recommendation upon a VA hospital retrospective study conducted without using zinc upon patients who were probably zinc-deficient, being elderly and about 2/3 Black.

In that study, the patients in the HCQ groups died at a significantly higher rate than the patients who had not received HCQ. But the higher death rate in the HCQ groups may have been due to the fact that the VA put sicker patients into the two groups taking HCQ (one of which also took azithromycin), while putting healthier patients into the control group that didn’t take HCQ. The GoodRX blog noticed this flaw. They wrote:

One thing to note is that people who had more severe symptoms, which might partially explain the higher death rates, were also more likely to get medications. People in this study were over 65 years old (on average) and male, which makes it difficult to apply the results to everyone. Randomized studies with a diverse population are needed to better understand the role of hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19.

Even worse, Fauci’s NIAID never even considered the fact that the VA was treating a group that is known to be zinc deficient without adding zinc supplements. Nor did they consider the interaction between HCQ and zinc, such that HCQ either works better if combined with zinc, or HCQ can deprive patients of needed zinc if not administered along with zinc supplements to zinc-deficient patients.

The Zinc Dosage

Zinc, if taken at high concentrations over a long period of time, can deprive the body of copper, which is also a valuable nutrient. As a result, 40mg of zinc per day is considered to be the maximum safe amount if zinc is taken continually. As always, people should consult their doctor or pharmacist if they are already taking other medications because zinc could interfere with the effectiveness of those medications.

The American people are figuring it out. Zinc pill makers are barely keeping up with growing demand as evidenced by the 1 to 2 week delay getting zinc pills from Amazon. In contrast, Fauci’s NIAID remains clueless, not even recommending that zinc supplements be given to those COVID-19 patients who are both Black and elderly, and thus doubly likely to be zinc deficient.

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