Zinc and Immunity
Zinc, often overshadowed by showy vitamins and new antioxidants, is an important micronutrient. It contributes to maintaining our general health and immune system, and is a key player with the latter, helping protect against pathogens and creating the basis for resisting infectious disease.
Zinc – the first line of defense
From the barrier of our skin to gene mutation within lymphocytes, Zinc provides natural immunity in several ways. It is also an important antioxidant, helping to fight free radicals and slowing the ageing process.
Our body’s natural killer cells (T-cells) and neutrophils (all white blood cells) especially rely heavily on zinc for their maintenance, development and function. In terms of normal day to day ailments (eg. the common cold), zinc has shown to drastically reduce the severity and duration of an illness by as much as 50% if taken when signs begin to show.
Once we have a pathogen in our system, we rely on our white blood cells to attack and get rid of them. With a Zinc deficiency, this process is affected on some levels. First, the natural soldier cells in our body would be minimal (so less of an attack on the pathogens can take place). Second, the body’s ability to rid itself of these diseased cells would be negatively affected, which can result in a toxic build-up of dead and diseased cells, causing inflammation.
The effects of inflammation
Studies have shown that if there is not enough zinc naturally in the body at the time of infection, excessive inflammation can result. The body not only attacks the pathogen but the body’s cells, thereby sometimes causing collateral cellular damage.
The negative effect inflammation causes on the body is vast. The last thing anyone wants is runaway inflammation becoming chronic, a situation that can trigger auto-immune diseases (debilitating diseases where the immune system is now attacking healthy tissue).
The body is designed to self-heal, but if this beautifully designed system is overrun with “dead debris” that it is constantly trying to clear out, then the healing process is compromised to the point where it is not able to heal itself from the most simple abnormalities (such as abnormal cells). A healthily functioning immune system can recognise, attack and dispose of an abnormal or cancerous cell, however, if the immune system is otherwise preoccupied, these hazardous cells would be allowed to develop unchecked.
Zinc is also a necessity in the integrity of the intestinal walls. A deficiency in zinc could lead to an issue called Leaky Gut – whereby food particles can pass through intestinal intercellular spaces causing inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Once this happens, malabsorption becomes the norm, and regardless of supplementation levels, the body is unable to properly absorb micro and macro minerals.
The recommended daily allowance for zinc in the average adult is 8-15mg. By and large, most people in today’s society are zinc deficient. There is a fine balance though, and over supplementation is never recommended. The right balance would be to eat zinc-rich foods such as oysters, chicken, beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, chickpeas, mushrooms, and spinach.
If an extra zinc boost is needed, a person is suffering from a zinc deficiency, or there is the onset of a bacterial or viral infection, a booster would be the answer.
Similarly to vitamin B12, vegans and vegetarians have a higher likelihood of being Zinc deficient. The bio-availability of Zinc in plant proteins is lower in comparison to animal proteins, so these individuals will need up to 50% more zinc in their diets to absorb the same desirable amounts.
The fasted indicators of zinc deficiency are white spots on nails, poor wound healing, hair loss, acne, skin disorders, diarrhoea and low immunity. A blood test can confirm a deficiency.
At first sight of any of the above ailments, a zinc booster would be of utmost help in getting that balance into check for a beautiful homeostatic state.
Resource 1: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27021581
Resource 2: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9701160