Zinc Supplements for Lyme Disease
The natural response may well be to supplement with zinc or try to achieve high dietary intake, particularly for those with an infection such as Lyme disease. New research, however, makes this approach look highly questionable, if not downright dangerous, as Borrelia burgdorferi (the Lyme disease bacteria) appear to need zinc to survive, for many of the same reasons that we do. Whilst zinc lozenges might be a good idea to reduce the longevity of a cold, taking zinc may be a terrible idea if infected with Lyme disease.
Many people are aware that it can help to avoid iron supplements when suffering an infection as many types of bacteria require iron to replicate, Borrelia is not an iron-dependent bacterium however, and appears, instead, to depend on zinc and possibly manganese, meaning that zinc, far from ‘boosting immunity’ as some claim, may actually be a bad idea for Lyme disease patients. Just as the human body requires zinc to carry out gene transcription and maintain healthy DNA, so does the Borrelia bacteria and the body’s reaction is to ‘hide’ zinc from the bacteria using various strategies.
Zinc Deficiency in Lyme Disease
Other things can compromise zinc status, including long-term use of the contraceptive pill, which can raise copper levels and lower zinc levels as the two minerals are antagonistic. Eating a large amount of unleavened bread (flatbreads, pittas, chapatis etc.) in the diet can also compromise zinc levels, as can eating improperly cooked beans and peas due to the phytate content of such foods. Phytates in wheat and legumes can bind to zinc and hinder absorption of the mineral, but cooking and proofing (using yeast when making bread) can help to counteract the phytate’s effects. Foods naturally high in zinc include oysters (314mg/100g dry weight), one of the most zinc-rich foods amongst other seafoods high in zinc. Other sources of zinc include liver, cow meat, mushrooms (8.73mg/100g dry matter), wheatgerm (16.2mg/100g dry matter), spinach, seaweeds, pumpkin seeds, green peas, pumpkin seeds, and other nuts and seeds such as pinenuts (6.7mg/100g dry matter).
Where Lyme disease patients have low zinc levels, their immunity may indeed be compromised, but these low levels could also impair the activity of the bacteria with which they are infected. Assessing zinc levels can prove difficult as the mineral has different distributions in certain areas of the body. Hair analysis is not thought to be a reliable indicator of zinc status and patients should exercise caution when advised on the basis of such a test to take, potentially dangerous, zinc supplements above the daily recommended doses in an attempt to treat Lyme disease. Zinc is essential to health, both for humans, and the Lyme disease bacteria it seems.
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