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zinc immune system

The Importance of Zinc to the Immune System

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January 12, 2021 | Published by


Zinc is quite the powerful mineral to the human body. Some of the functions zinc facilitates in the body are protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis, cell division, normal growth, and your sense of taste and smell.1 Another huge need for zinc is proper immune function, which we’ll be focusing on in this blog.

The importance of zinc to the immune system became clear after the discovery of zinc deficiency in the 1960s. It was discovered that zinc ions are involved in regulating intracellular signaling pathways in innate and adaptive immune cells. While the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of zinc have long been documented, underlying mechanisms are still being researched.2

What Exactly Does Zinc Do for the Immune System?

If your body doesn’t have enough zinc, it will have difficulty creating an adequate amount of immune cells, like T-cells and white blood cells, which are required to fight off disease. This can lead to more frequent illness and extended recovery times. Zinc also supports the immune system by helping to fight off certain harmful microbes, including Streptococcus pneumoniae, a type of bacteria that causes pneumonia. Zinc is able to do this by blocking the pathways these bacteria use to take in nutrients, essentially starving the bacteria and making it easier for the immune cells to kill them.3

Zinc is also necessary for the development, maturation, differentiation, activation and function of all immune cells. Alterations in zinc intake produce concomitant alterations in immune function. Maintaining zinc at the right levels is a key factor in balanced immunoregulation that effectively protects the body against pathogens but moderates inflammation and excessive immune activity. Zinc also functions as a potent cellular antioxidant by moderating the generation of and enhancing the scavenging of reactive oxygen species.

Zinc and Aging

The characteristics of immunity malfunction as we age are similar to those of zinc deficiency, implying that diminishing zinc could be a major factor in the age-associated decline of immune function. Zinc is essential for DNA synthesis and cell proliferation, and for this reason, highly proliferating cells, like immune cells, are dependent on an adequate supply of zinc. Growth or function of different types of immune cells, like macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, T cells, and B cells is impaired by zinc deficiency.4

In addition to its role in the immune system, zinc also reduces oxidative stress, plays a structural role by stabilizing proteins, regulates the expression of many genes, and drives hundreds of chemical reactions in the body. Zinc also is required for neurotransmitter release in the brain and insulin packaging and secretion.4

Maintaining your zinc status could be a key to living a long, healthier life by optimizing the function of your immune system. Zinc, coupled with eating a nutrient-dense, plant-rich diet, slows the aging process and lowers your risk for pneumonia and other life-threatening infections.4

References:

  1. Zinc Fact Sheet. National Institute of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
  2. Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5748737/
  3. Kennedy, M. How taking zinc may shorten a cold and what you need to know about zinc and your immune system. Insider Health. https://www.insider.com/zinc-immune-system
  4. Fuhrman, J. Immunity Benefits of Zinc as We Age. Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/surprising-immunity-benefits-of-zinc-4047431

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