Are You Getting Enough Zinc For A Strong Immune System?
Zinc is a mineral with many important functions in your body. Being zinc deficient can significantly weaken your immune system. The majority of female patients I see in my clinic are zinc deficient.
Your body cannot produce or store much zinc, therefore it’s necessary to get sufficient levels each day through your food or supplements. The recommended daily intake (RDI) is 11 mg for adult men and 8 mg for adult women. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s surprisingly difficult to obtain. Many people (especially women) don’t eat enough zinc-rich foods, and some components of plant foods can hinder zinc absorption.
Zinc is the second most abundant trace mineral in your body after iron, and there is some in every cell of your body. Zinc is needed for the activity of more than 300 enzymes in your body. These enzymes are necessary for a healthy metabolism, digestion, nerve function, wound healing and immune function. Children and teenagers have a high requirement for zinc because it’s needed for body growth and development. Did you know that zinc is needed for your sense of taste and smell? This is because one of the enzymes necessary for proper taste and smell relies on zinc. People who are battling with an infection and have lost their appetite are usually very zinc deficient and benefit immensely from a supplement.
Zinc’s role in your immune system
Zinc has proven anti-viral effects. Zinc deficiency is harmful to white blood cells and the thymus gland. Zinc deficiency causes a decrease in natural killer cell activity and increased susceptibility to infections.
The immune-strengthening effects of zinc include:
- Protection of cell membranes from cell-damaging chemicals and
- Closure of pores in the lung’s tiny blood vessels (they are called capillary membranes) to reduce trans-capillary leakage of ﬂuid. In simple terms, zinc can help stop the lungs from ﬁlling up with ﬂuid when inﬂammation occurs such as in a cytokine storm.
- Reducing mucus production and other respiratory
- Stimulating production of interferon (an antiviral protein produced by immune cells).
- A review of seven studies showed that 80 to 92 mg of zinc per day may reduce the length of the common cold by up to 33 percent. (This is a very high zinc level and is only intended for short term use).
- Zinc supplementation can significantly reduce the risk of infections and promote a robust immune response in older adults.
Zinc also benefits your skin and enhances wound healing. Zinc works with vitamin A. It is a component of retinol-binding protein, which is necessary for transporting vitamin A in your bloodstream. Supplementing with zinc has been shown to significantly increase the level of vitamin A in the blood.
Zinc deficiency is extremely common
We see it in at least half of our female patients, especially in vegetarians and vegans. Many foods contain zinc, but it is best absorbed from animal foods. The zinc in legumes, lentils, nuts and seeds isn’t absorbed as well due to the presence of phytates. Soaking these foods does reduce phytate levels to some degree, as does sprouting them. Animal foods high in zinc include red meat, liver and seafood. You can ask your doctor for a zinc blood test to make sure you’re getting enough either through your diet or supplements.
Symptoms of zinc deficiency
The following symptoms are possible. Please be aware, the symptoms on this list can be caused by other conditions. If in doubt, consult your doctor.
- Impaired wound healing
- Repeated infections or infections that are slow to resolve
- Skin rashes
- Chronic diarrhea
- Behavioral issues in children
- Delayed growth and development in children
- White spots on fingernails
- Delayed sexual maturity in teenagers
- Low testosterone in men
- Decreased appetite
- Loss of smell
- Impaired fertility
Eating zinc-rich foods and taking a zinc supplement can help address these issues.
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.