Zinc: valuable addition to supplements that help asthma symptoms

Zinc supplements may help asthma due to beneficial effects on respiratory system

Zinc supplements may help asthma according to the results of some scientific studies. Asthmatic children were found to benefit from zinc and vitamin supplements to their diet. Zinc is one of the most affordable supplements to the diet and is widely used as a remedy for colds. However, its beneficial effects on the respiratory system may be of benefit in asthma too. If you have asthma, a zinc supplement may help. If you feel better after starting zinc, you may think about stopping your asthma drugs. However, it is important not make any changes to your asthma medication without first speaking with your doctor.

Possibility for better control of childhood asthma

Photo: Tradimus (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Tradimus (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

A rapid test for deficiency

Zinc Status - Ethical Nutrients - 120ml - Liquid
Zinc Status - Ethical Nutrients - 120ml - Liquid

This liquid contains zinc and will taste somewhat unpleasant (soapy or metallic) if your body zinc levels are normal. If you are deficient in zinc, it will either taste a bit sweet or have no taste at all.


Zinc supplements and omega-3 and vitamin C help children with asthma

These supplements help asthmatic children control their asthma better. Dr Al Biltagi and his team studied 60 Egyptian children, average age 8 years, with moderate, persistent asthma. The children's diets were supplemented daily with omega-3 (1000 mg oil containing about 30 EPA/DHA), 15 mg zinc and 200 mg vitamin C. The supplements were given separately and then were combined together, for six weeks at a time. All three supplements resulted in better control of asthma, better results in lung function tests and a decrease in lung inflammation as measured using laboratory tests. The study was published in the international medical journal Acta Paediatrica.

Dr Biltagi's study is the only such trial conducted in humans that I was able to find when I searched the PubMed database of medical literature provided by the US National Library of Medicine. However, a number of observational studies suggest there is a link between zinc deficiency and asthma. There is also support for the idea that zinc helps asthma from results obtained in animal experiments. These studies are described below.

All in one dietary supplement for kids

SmartyPants Kids Complete Gummy Vitamins: Multivitamin & Omega 3 DHA/EPA Fish Oil, Methyl B12, Vitamin D3, 120 count (30 Day Supply)
SmartyPants Kids Complete Gummy Vitamins: Multivitamin & Omega 3 DHA/EPA Fish Oil, Methyl B12, Vitamin D3, 120 count (30 Day Supply)

These gummies taste just like candies and are loved by kids and their parents. In fact, some parents say that they steal a gummie or two for themselves occasionally.

They contain not only all the vitamins that are needed, including vitamin C, but also zinc and fish oils (source of omega 3). Despite containing fish oil, they do not taste fishy at all.

The quantities are lower than those used in the Egyptian study, but represent a good starting point if you would like to supplement your child's diet.


Zinc deficiency and asthma in children

Zinc deficiency has been associated with childhood asthma. Many studies have suggested that environmental factors, including diet, are important in the development of asthma, particularly asthma in children.

The process of inflammation that takes place in the lungs of people with asthma results in a situation called oxidative stress, which causes further injury to the tissues. Oxidative stress in the lungs is also increased by the pollutants present in the atmosphere, as well as by the normal functioning of mitochondria. Thus, it has been further suggested that the increase in asthma in recent times is due to our diets becoming less rich in antioxidants as processed foods increasing become consumed in preference to fresh foods.

Much of the research on zinc and asthma has been published by the team of Dr Peter Zalewski in Adelaide, Australia, including a detailed review of the possible ways in which zinc can act on the respiratory tract. Peter Zalewski published his findings in 2001 and some of the information he mentions has been available for decades. It is surprising, therefore, that there appears to be little interest in zinc as an aid against asthma symptoms, while supplementation with vitamins A, C, E, and with magnesium and selenium is widely discussed.

Peter Zalewski's interest was roused by the results of several studies on childhood asthma and allergic asthma published in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s.

Children with asthma and allergies were found to have lower levels of zinc in their hair than non-allergic and non-asthmatic children. An earlier study had suggested a similar pattern in asthmatic adults, although the numbers studied had been too small to draw definite conclusions. Subsequently, zinc levels in serum were also found to be lower in asthmatics, and a low ratio of zinc-to-copper levels was found to be associated with more severe wheezing.

All this led to suggestions that zinc supplements help relieve asthma symptoms and attacks.

Since then, Zalewski's team has published a number of papers showing beneficial effects of zinc in animal models of asthma and respiratory allergies. Zinc deficiency has been shown to be associated with more severe levels of lung inflammation. Moreover, conditions of inflammation and oxidative stress cause zinc to be used up, and stress in general causes zinc to be shifted away into the liver, thus deepening any deficiency and worsening inflammation.

For those who are interested, a summary of the ways zinc can act on the respiratory system is given at the end of this hub.

All in one gummies for adults

SmartyPants Adult Complete Gummy Vitamins: Multivitamin & Omega 3 DHA/EPA Fish Oil, Methyl B12, Vitamin D3, 180 count (30 Day Supply)
SmartyPants Adult Complete Gummy Vitamins: Multivitamin & Omega 3 DHA/EPA Fish Oil, Methyl B12, Vitamin D3, 180 count (30 Day Supply)

If the kids' gummies featured above appeal to you, you'll be pleased to know that there is a specific version for grown ups. They taste good and are far more pleasant to take than swallowing huge capsules or pills.The recommended quantity is six gummies per day, which means you can have a little sweet treat knowing that it is doing you good!


The body is not able to store zinc, so a daily intake is needed.

Asthma processes possibly cause zinc to be used up faster, so asthmatics might need more than the RDA. Whle beans and whole grains are valuable sources of zinc, they contain phytates, which bind zinc and make it unavailable to the body. People consuming a lot of these foods, particularly vegetarians and vegans, may also need more than the RDA.

Elderly people are at risk of zinc deficiency. A US survey found that 35%–45% of people aged 60 years or older had zinc intakes below the estimated average requirement of 6.8 mg/day for elderly women and 9.4 mg/day for elderly men.

How much is needed?

The Office of Dietary Supplements at the US NIH has set the following recommended daily allowances (RDAs):

Adults: 11 mg (men), 8 mg (women, 13-14 mg when pregnant or breast feeding)
Adolescents 14-18 years: 11 mg (boys), 9 mg (girls)
Children: 9-13 years: 8mg; 4-8 years: 5 mg, 1-3 years: 3 mg

Zinc can be toxic in excess. The ODS has also set recommended upper levels:

Adults: 40 mg
Adolescents 14-18 years: 34mg
Children: 9-13 years: 23mg; 4-8 years: 12 mg, 1-3 years: 7 mg

Note, however that the Egyptian study described above found a daily supplement of 15 mg zinc to be beneficial in asthmatic children aged 8 years on average.

Zn for children

Nature's Plus - Animal Parade KidZinc Lozenges Tangerine - 90 Lozenges
Nature's Plus - Animal Parade KidZinc Lozenges Tangerine - 90 Lozenges

This product contains 8 mg per portion, which is double the quantity found in the SmartyPants multivitamins featured above. However, it does not contain vitamins or omega-3, but it does contain echinacea, which is thought to boost the immune system.


Zinc-containing foods

This image is a work of a United States Department of Agriculture employee and as such is in the public domain.
This image is a work of a United States Department of Agriculture employee and as such is in the public domain. | Source

Zinc food sources list

Oysters are by far the richest source. 6 medium oysters contain a stunning 76.7 mg! Next in line come beef shanks, containing approximately 3 mg per ounce.

Poultry, nuts, beans and whole grains also valuable sources, although they contain even less. As mentioned above, the phytates in beans and whole grains mean that not all the zinc contained in these foods is available to the body.

Zinc can also be found in readily available and affordable supplements, both as mixed supplements and on its own. Taking supplements guarantees an adequate intake for people with all types of diets, and this may be of particular importance in asthma.

Zn for adults

Now Foods Zinc Gluconate 50mg Tablets, 250-Count
Now Foods Zinc Gluconate 50mg Tablets, 250-Count

This is the top selling Zn supplement for adults. Do note though that these are hard tablets, which have to be swallowed.


How about you?

Do you/your children take zinc supplements?

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  • None of us take them
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Pelargonium: traditional African remedy for respiratory diseases

Nature's Way Umcka Original Drops, 2 Ounce
Nature's Way Umcka Original Drops, 2 Ounce

This is the pelargonium extract I mention in my personal story (to the left) as having helped my asthma.


My personal story

I was first diagnosed with asthma in 1992, have relied on inhalers ever since and have sometimes found my activities somewhat restricted by shortness of breath. My interest in zinc and asthma came about after I came down with a cold two days before I was due to sing in a choir at a big concert. I was desperate to preserve my voice so I zapped the cold with OTC cold remedies and also with high-dose vitamin C + zinc, pelargonium extract and echinacea, which were all advertised as cold-fighting remedies at my local pharmacy. Not only was I able to sing in the concert, but I noticed that my breathing was better than usual. I researched the supplements I was using and found the studies on zinc by Zalewski and by Al Biltagi. I also discovered that antioxidants such as vitamin C are considered useful and that pelargonium extract is a traditional African remedy used to treat asthma. I have continued taking zinc, vitamin C and pelargonium, and have added a selenium supplement as well. I am delighted with the improvement in my breathing, and my use of a reliever inhaler has decreased dramatically. On some days I don't need it all, which is a first for me.

Nevertheless, other people's mileage may vary. I repeat that this article is not be taken as medical advice. If you have asthma and wish to try zinc or any other remedy, you are strongly recommended to seek your doctor's opinion before making any changes to your asthma medication.

Possible reasons why zinc helps asthma

Antioxidant activity

Zinc is a potent antioxidant and can act against conditions of oxidative stress and prevent the resulting tissue injury and inflammation. Its antioxidant activity has four major effects:

a) Zinc stabilises sulfhydryl groups on certain proteins, thus protecting these proteins from destruction. The proteins in question are very important for proper lung function. Among other things, they are one of the building blocks of the cilia, the tiny hairs lining the respiratory tract which help to shift mucus and pollutants out of the lungs. Accumulation of mucus is one of the factors causing asthma symptoms

b) Iron and copper within cell membranes and proteins can increase free radical production, which results in damage to cell membranes. Zinc neutralises this activity and therefore makes the membranes more stable, which makes the cells more resistant to injury.

c) Zinc stimulates the body to produce metallothionein,which itself is an important antioxidant.

d) Together with copper, zinc is a vital component of an enzyme called Cu-Zn superoxide dismutase. Transgenic mice with high levels of this enzyme in their lungs have been found to be less likely to overreact to inhaled allergens.

Stabilising activity

As well as the stabilising effect on sulfhydryl proteins mentioned above, zinc is able to stabilise cilia and cells in other ways. For example, it has an important role in the production of microtubules, which form the cytoskeleton (the supporting framework for cells) and cilia. The stabilising functions of zinc help to maintain the role of the respiratory epithelium (the tissue lining the lungs and other parts of the respiratory tract) as a physical barrier against toxic pollutants and infections.

The mysterious process of apoptosis

By Emma Farmer (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Emma Farmer (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Anti-apoptosis activity

Zinc inhibits apoptosis, i.e. the "suicide" of cells, mainly by inhibiting the activity of enzymes called caspases. Inhibition of caspases has been show to decrease the severity of lung inflammation in a mouse model of allergic asthma.

Role in cell division and growth

There is a very fast turnover of cells in the respiratory epithelium. Zinc is essential in the processes that enable lost tissue to be replaced and maintain a healthy state. It is needed for DNA synthesis and to stimulate cell division and growth.

Role in wound healing

Zinc stimulates wound healing, hence its use in long-used remedies such as zinc and castor oil cream. The respiratory epithelium is particularly prone to damage, because of its exposure to toxic pollutants, as well as the damage caused by inflammation as occurs in asthma. Therefore this activity of zinc is also crucial in maintaining lung tissue health.

Anti-inflammatory activity

Zinc has a directly inhibiting effect on inflammation through a variety of different mechanisms. For example, one important event in the development of allergic asthma with its associated lung inflammation is a change in the type of immune response from one that is mainly cellular and involves Th1 cells (cytotoxic T cells) to one that is more based on antibodies and involves Th2 cells (helper T cells). Zn has a blocking effect on this switch.

Zinc even more vital in developing countries

Zinc is essential for keeping the immune system functioning. Decreased immunity, particularly in the poor living conditions of less developed countries, is a serious problem. Children are particularly at risk and many die as a result.

An organisation has been established to support UNICEF in providing children in Nepal and Peru with supplements. This is resulting in improved health and fewer deaths.

The video below shows how a mining company is helping with this initiative in Nepal. If you would like further information, visit the Zinc Saves Kids web site.

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Comments 2 comments

brakel2 profile image

brakel2 2 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Hi Write Angled - Thank you for this information about zinc and other supplements which can help with Asthma and breathing problems. I sometimes have breathing problems, but need to check my supplement for zinc amount. Your hub has excellent research, and you used it well in trying to help your own Asthma. Thank you so much for sharing this information. I will share it with my followers. Blessings, Audrey

WriteAngled profile image

WriteAngled 2 years ago from Treorci, Cymru Author

Thank you, Audrey. I guess it's my education and work background, but I always want to support any medical information I give with facts from the professional literature!

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