Sizing up zinc’s immunity-boosting credentials
08 Apr 2020 --- Global focus on immunity has never been stronger as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the globe. While there is no substitute for medical care and taking measures such as handwashing and social distancing, many consumers are still seeking to strengthen their immune systems. NutritionInsight takes a closer look at how zinc has emerged as a so-called hot ingredient on the market, thanks to its contribution to both the innate and adaptive immune systems, which are the body’s first and second lines of defenses, respectively.
“We understand there is no proof that zinc can address the fight of COVID-19. However, when supporting our customers in the development of immune health food supplements, we notice that they are likely to include zinc. This is because it allows them to benefit from the approved European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) claim on the maintenance of the normal function of the immune system,” explains Ettore Giacobbe, Product Development Manager of Lehvoss Nutrition. At Nutraceuticals Europe, held in Madrid, Spain, last month, he also elaborated to NutritionInsight about the topic of immunity.
“In general, we believe that all immune-supporting ingredients may have some benefit to support people’s immune response. Perhaps a multi-spectrum immune support regime would be more beneficial than specific single products,” adds Andy Bragg, Business Manager of Lehvoss Nutrition.
According to Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute (KHNI), when pathogens enter the respiratory tract or gastrointestinal system, the innate immune system responds by sending cells such as neutrophils or macrophages to fight the threat. Zinc helps these cells to develop and function so that they can then swallow up the invading pathogen or create enzymes to destroy the pathogen.
Zinc also helps the T-cells and B-cells that make up our adaptive immune system work correctly. This helps the body remember the identity of a pathogen it is exposed to so that it can more quickly mount a specific defense in future attacks. KHNI notes that when the body does not have enough zinc, it struggles to develop a strong immune response.
Zinc has been the subject of recent NPD, including Gadot Biochemical Industries’ Chewable Zinc Citrate. The chewable tablets are touted as a “convenient solution for consumers seeking immune support and immune resistance during high-stress situations and everyday maintenance.” They also contain vitamin C, which has been another major area of interest.
The company cites a meta-analysis of two trials using both zinc and vitamin C against placebo in individuals with a common cold, which both found that symptom relief was quicker in the supplement group. “We have seen an increase in demand for zinc products due to the current situation thanks to the link with helping build a stronger immune system. However, we have to be careful not to make any claims that we have a solution that can prevent COVID-19,” says Gadot Biochemical Industries CEO Ohad Cohen.
The company now plans to expand its line of zinc citrate and gadozinc (soluble zinc). Cohen flags high demand as a potential issue arising from the pandemic, but notes that the company is working to meet the market needs.
Bragg of Lehvoss Nutrition also notes that demand has increased in requests for certain ingredients. However, the main supply chain issue is the transport infrastructure given various lockdown and restrictive measures, as well as the lack of workers in many countries. Giacobbe adds that shipping costs are also increasing and that giving priority to medical needs has led to some delays. The company is also experiencing shortages of immunity-related ingredients, including vitamin C.
Don’t “make a hero” of zinc
Despite this increased interest in certain immunity supplements, the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) warns that consumers should not “make a hero” of just one micronutrient as they each play a different role in the immune system.
“The immune system is a complex network of cells and chemical compounds that help defend the body against infections, and a number of different nutrients are involved in supporting our immune system to work normally. So, while vitamin C and zinc supplements may be flying off the shelves, it’s important to remember the other key players in the immune system, and that you can find these nutrients in a wide range of foods,” it states.
The Foundation also highlights that there is no evidence that vitamin and mineral supplements can prevent or treat viral infections. It states that while there is some evidence that vitamin C may reduce the duration and severity of the common cold, but this is caused by a completely different type of virus to COVID-19. There has also been some research into the effect of zinc supplements on the common cold, but the organization concedes that there is a lack of knowledge about whether supplements could offer any protection against coronavirus.
Notably, KHNI also highlights that most people in developed countries already get enough zinc through their diet, meaning their immune system is not missing the zinc it needs. It states that only around 18 percent of US consumers, for example, do not meet the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) of zinc per day. Meanwhile, the average zinc intake in Europe is above the recommended amount.
In light of these rapid developments NutritionInsight has launched a daily news feed for the coronavirus-related information and insights you need to guide your business through this challenging period.
By Katherine Durrell
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