Zinc: The Gatekeeper Of Immune Function

Zinc: The Gatekeeper Of Immune Function

The widespread effects of zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral necessary for many human bodily functions, and its widespread effects reach all organs and cell types. You may have heard about it in the context of metals or skincare products, but one of its most important roles is in helping our bodies fend off those pesky pathogens.

But here’s the kicker: our bodies don’t naturally produce zinc, so we have to get it from our diet or through supplementation. While zinc can be found in foods like red meat, poultry, fish, and certain vegetables, let’s face it—sometimes getting enough zinc from our meals alone can be a challenge. This risk increases even more with certain lifestyle factors and diseases. That’s why taking a multivitamin that includes zinc to fill any dietary gaps is a good idea for those looking to improve their overall wellness.

The interrelation of zinc and immunity

Since scientists discovered zinc deficiency in the ‘60s, the relationship between zinc and immunity has been widely studied.

Overall, zinc is essential in the proper function of both innate immunity, our body’s first line of defense against pathogens, and adaptive immunity, our body’s ability to identify and target a specific pathogen. Specifically, it’s crucial in the normal development of various types of white blood cells, which help our bodies fight infection and disease.

Furthermore, zinc plays a significant role in wound healing in several ways, including reducing inflammation, supporting immune defenses, and regulating processes associated with tissue repair. This means oral zinc supplementation or topical ointments containing zinc can help patients with post-surgical wounds or skin ulcers.

A 2017 meta-analysis shows that zinc supplementation can even reduce the length of the common cold by up to 33%! So, if you’re looking to give your immune system a little extra love this cold and flu season, consider adding a zinc supplement to your daily routine.

Zinc fights oxidative stress

Studies have found strong evidence that zinc reduces oxidative stress in our bodies. But what exactly does this mean? Oxidative stress reflects an imbalance in our bodies between free radicals—substances known to cause abnormal cell growth and cancer—and antioxidants. With lasting negative impacts on the body, oxidative stress causes metabolic dysfunction, damages our organs, and ultimately increases the likelihood of various diseases like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cancers, and Alzheimer’s.

But how does zinc do its important immune-boosting work? A 2017 analysis reveals that zinc decreases oxidative stress by helping our bodies produce antioxidants. Those antioxidants protect our bodies against free radicals, inhibiting the growth of abnormal cells.

A study conducted on elderly subjects showed that zinc decreases the incidence of infections and oxidative stress markers in older people, highlighting the increasing importance of supplementation as we age.

Due to its remarkable antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic effects, it’s clear that zinc supplementation is beneficial for long-term health, not just in the short term for colds or wounds.

Who is at risk for zinc deficiency?

While severe zinc deficiency is more common in developing countries with lacking diets, certain lifestyle factors or diseases can also cause a deficiency in those living in developed countries. Patients with chronic infections like HCV and HIV are at particular risk. Severe zinc deficiency is often seen in people with alcohol addictions. Those with gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn’s, vegetarians and vegans, pregnant or breastfeeding individuals, and malnourished or anorexic individuals are also at risk of zinc deficiency.

Symptoms of a mild zinc deficiency include diarrhea, decreased immunity, thinning hair, impaired taste or smell, dry skin, fertility issues, and impaired wound healing.

Though rarer, a severe zinc deficiency is characterized by impaired growth and development, delayed sexual maturity, skin rashes, chronic diarrhea, impaired wound healing, and behavioral issues.

Integrating zinc supplementation

A multivitamin is a convenient way to ensure you get the right amount of zinc. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for zinc is 11 mg for adult males and 8 mg for adult females (11 mg during pregnancy).

As with any wellness tip, do further research and consult your healthcare provider for proper dosing recommendations before implementing these into your life. 

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