By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder

Why The Elderly Should Be Concerned About Zinc

There is no dispute that one group of people adversely affected by this horrible virus referred to as COVID-19 or the coronavirus is the elderly - especially those who live in nursing homes.   

"There are about 1.4 to 1.5 million people living in nursing homes," says Dr. Tanya Gure, section chief of geriatrics and associate professor in internal medicine at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Roughly one to three million serious infections occur every year in these facilities. The vast number of infections include pneumonia and respiratory tract infections. 

The elderly usually have impaired immune systems

These infections are a major problem for our elderly who are already inclined to have impaired immune systems as they age. Add to that the medications they take which may also negatively affect their immune system.  Age and medications are two reasons why it is difficult for their bodies to absorb enough essential nutrients, like certain minerals and vitamins, necessary to protect their immune system. 

It is therefore important for us to recognize these unique issues which the elderly face and be proactive about the potential compromise to their immune systems. 

Zinc deficiency is sometimes overlooked in the elderly

According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a simple solution to reducing the rates of infection may be administering zinc supplementation to the elderly in nursing homes who need it.

Zinc is an essential trace mineral with invaluable health benefits. It helps the immune system function properly. Zinc deficiency has been reported to negatively affect immunity and increase the likelihood of infectious diseases, which is a major cause of death in the elderly.

Older people tend to have lower zinc levels and low zinc intake. Reportedly, a high proportion of nursing home elderly (30%) have low serum zinc concentrations at baseline and after one year of follow up. Serum zinc concentrations (amount found in blood) at less than 70 mcg per deciliter is considered low. Levels equal to or above this amount is considered adequate.

Those with low zinc had a significantly higher incidence and longer duration of pneumonia, as well as all-cause mortality, than did those with adequate serum zinc concentrations.

Researchers suggested zinc supplementation of 30 mg per day over a period of three months was feasible and significantly increased serum zinc concentrations.

An important takeaway from this study is that a higher dose of zinc may be necessary in order to see an improvement in serum zinc levels. Researchers had previously administered 5mg and 7mg of zinc, but this was not nearly enough (30 mg appears to be the “magic” number).

Learn how to make sure our elderly gets enough Zinc 

  • If you have an elderly relative or friend in a nursing home, work with a competent doctor or nutritionist to make sure they get a comprehensive nutrient test at least annually. This will identify various nutrient imbalances, such as zinc and other critical mineral and nutrient deficiencies.
  • Educate them about zinc rich foods, like beans, chia seeds, almonds, pecans and oatmeal. Their bodies may still be able to absorb some zinc from foods. 
  • If there is a need to take zinc supplements, we recommend physician grade supplements which are well researched and used by medical doctors.
  • Determine whether your elderly relative has a balanced gut. A balanced gut may help the elderly better absorb nutrients from the foods they eat, and also help overall immune function.
  • Be mindful of the medications they are taking (both prescription and over-the-counter drugs). Medications may deplete the body of essential nutrients, and as we age we tend to take more medications. Additionally, caffeine, large doses of iron, calcium, bran and phytates all decrease zinc absorption.

Note, though, that zinc may affect the performance of medications they take. For example, zinc may interact with medications such as penicillamine (used for Wilson’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis), antibiotics like quinolones (Cipro, Levaquin, etc.) and tetracycline, by reducing their absorption.

Don't overdo zinc intake 

Finally, please keep in mind that the high importance of getting adequate zinc does not mean that they should consume excessive amounts or take high dosage supplements of it. Remember, too much of a good thing can be bad. Having too much zinc may affect copper levels (another essential mineral). And  an imbalance of copper and zinc may affect thyroid health, mental health and more.

This is why we always say, “Test, don’t guess!”

A simple zinc test

Grab some liquid zinc from us or your local health store and swish a tablespoon around in your mouth. If you immediately get a strong unpleasant or metallic taste in your mouth, then you probably have an adequate amount of zinc in your system. However, if the zinc tastes like water or even sweet, you may be deficient. Without enough zinc in your diet, you may experience a decreased sense of taste.

Enjoy your healthy life!

(Portions of this blog were originally published here). 


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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