Hero Ingredient: What Is Zinc And How Does It Affect Immune Function?
The immune system relies heavily on the amount of nutrients it gets to keep the body running at its best. It needs to be able to function well enough to identify threats known as pathogens, and rid the body of them so that they don’t pose a threat. Both the innate and acquired immune functions work together towards immune health, and when one isn’t working as it should, the body is not well protected from infection and disease.
One particular nutrient that can benefit immune function is zinc. But what is zinc, exactly? And how does zinc help the immune system?
What is zinc?
Zinc is an essential trace mineral that the body needs for a variety of different processes. Often referred to as the most important trace element, it is found in the cells but isn’t stored within the body, so a daily intake of zinc is required to help keep up adequate levels. The best food sources for zinc include red meat, poultry, and fish, although the element can also be found in legumes, wholegrain foods, and nuts.
The body requires enough zinc to help with the growth and maintenance of proteins and DNA. Zinc also helps in wound healing by assisting in the repair of membranes, coagulation, and scar formation. It is also an important part of the synthesis of thyroid hormones and contributes to the immune function.
What are the advantages of taking zinc?
Since zinc is required for so many bodily functions, it is a much-needed nutrient for optimal health. It sometimes can be difficult to get the daily recommended amount of zinc, though, and that can lead to zinc deficiency.
Some of the most notable side effects of a zinc deficiency include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weakened immune response
- Hair loss
- A delay in sexual maturation
- Eye and skin lesions
- Weight loss
- Delayed wound healing
- Abnormalities with the way that food tastes
- Mental lethargy
If a person is not getting enough zinc and begins to suffer these symptoms, taking zinc supplements can repair the damage done. Studies have also shown that zinc may play a role in reducing the risk of developing age-related diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration and pneumonia. In the case of pneumonia, taking zinc can also give people an immune boost.
Zinc has been shown to help decrease overall levels of inflammation throughout the body by decreasing oxidative stress and lowering the number of inflammatory proteins. Since oxidative stress can wreak havoc on the body in many ways – such as causing chronic inflammation that can lead to other diseases like heart disease and cancer – lowering oxidative stress through zinc supplementation can be a great benefit.
How does zinc affect immune function?
Zinc plays a vital role in helping to balance the immune response. It does this by interacting with immune cells in a way that allows the immune response to stay balanced, thus reducing the risk of it overreacting to pathogens and ensuring it responds in an appropriate way to infection.
When the immune system goes into overdrive, it can create something called a cytokine storm. This occurs when there are too many cytokines, which are small proteins that are used in the immune response. When this happens, the immune system begins to attack healthy parts of the body as the immune cells spread and attack healthy tissues. Since zinc is crucial in the balance of the immune response, having enough of it can mitigate this overreaction.
Which zinc is best for immune system help?
The best way to get a sufficient amount of zinc in your system is through food, but many people cannot get enough through diet alone for a variety of reasons. Vegetarians, vegans, people with GI disorders, and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding may all require supplementation to help get enough zinc in their systems. There are different types of zinc supplements, so choosing the best one for immune support can be difficult if you don’t know what to look out for.
There are a few different forms of zinc available on the market today. They include:
- Zinc sulfate
- Zinc picolinate
- Zinc citrate
- Zinc acetate
- Zinc glycerate
- Zinc monomethionine
Each type of zinc will come with different drawbacks and benefits. For example, zinc sulfate is the most affordable type; however, it is the hardest for the body to absorb and can cause stomach issues, thus making it the least desirable version. Studies suggest that the zinc most likely to benefit the body because of its absorption rate is zinc picolinate, which is zinc formed using picolinic acid.
Having enough zinc is crucial to the health of many bodily systems, including the immune system. Since the immune system is the first line of defence against illness, proper immune function is the first step in staying healthy.
For those who can’t get enough zinc through diet alone, zinc supplementation is an absolute must. Your immune system will thank you if you maintain healthy and adequate overall levels of zinc, and so will a variety of other bodily functions.