We need zinc to perform numerous jobs in the body, including maintaining a healthy immune system. How does it get to work?
Zinc is a key micronutrient that our body needs for a number of roles, from supporting growth and development to boosting neurological functions. It’s also essential for our immune system, as it affects how our cells respond to infections, and can help keep inflammation under control.1
As it’s an element (Zn), our bodies can’t make zinc so it needs to come from our food – you can find it in beans, shellfish, wholegrains and dairy. If you’re low in zinc, you may find cuts and scrapes take longer to heal, you may have diarrhoea, and you’re more prone to getting ill.2
Zinc is well-known for helping to cut the length of a common cold, but how else can it support our immune system?
How zinc works as an immunity booster
There are a number of ways zinc boosts the immune system but primarily it activates enzymes that break down proteins in viruses and bacteria so they are less able to spread.3 Zinc also increases the activation of cells responsible for fighting infection.4
In 2011, French researchers discovered that zinc helps cells destroy microbes such as E. coli by overloading them.5 Essentially, this poisons them, killing them off. Don’t worry though – the daily RDA for zinc is 7mg for women and 9.5mg for men.6 You’d have to consume at least 25mg a day for it to cause any problems.7
Zinc’s effect on inflammation
A growing area of research is looking at how zinc reduces inflammation in the body. Inflammation has been linked to conditions such as heart disease, depression and dementia.
A 2013 study by Ohio State University found that zinc is ‘lured’ into cells that fight infection, to help stop the immune system spiralling out of control.8 The scientists concluded that if there wasn’t enough zinc to support this response, then excess inflammation is triggered – potentially damaging cells and the body.
So, next time you’re feeling run-down, think about zinc! It can help you fight off infections today and protect your body from future damage, too.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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1. Science Daily. Zinc deficiency linked to immune system response, particularly in older adults. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150323142839.htm
2. Science Daily. Zinc supplementation boosts immune system in children, review finds. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140514205714.htm
3. Prasad AS. Zinc in Human Health: Effect of Zinc on Immune Cells. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2277319/
4. Science Daily. Got Zinc? New Zinc Research Suggests Novel Therapeutic Targets. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090730103740.htm
5. CNRS. Heavy metals boost immunity. Available from: http://www2.cnrs.fr/en/1905.htm
6. Public Health England. Government Dietary Recommendations. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/618167/government_dietary_recommendations.pdf
7. Patient Info. Zinc Deficiency, Excess and Supplementation. Available from: https://patient.info/doctor/zinc-deficiency-excess-and-supplementation-pro
8. Science Daily. Zinc helps against infection by tapping brakes in immune response. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130207131344.htm