Zinc is crucial to the normal development of immune cells, and plays an important role in maintaining the activity of a range of immune cells. If you are zinc deficient you are more susceptible to various viruses and bacteria.
Dietary zinc deficiency is very prevalent in the developing world (affecting nearly two billion people), where the population consumes mainly cereals.1
According to Liping Huang, a geneticist at the ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center at Davis, California, mild zinc deficiency may also exist in the United States among otherwise healthy infants, toddlers, preschool children, pregnant and lactating women, and seniors.2
Additionally, vegetarians who avoid meat and dairy are also at risk for mild zinc deficiencies.
Interestingly, The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988-94) suggested some Mexican American children are at risk of zinc deficiency, which might explain the higher death rate among Mexican children from the H1N1 virus (swine flu).3
Study shows that zinc supplementation helps reduce infections even in people who are not deficient
Middle-aged and older people fight off infections more efficiently when they take daily zinc supplements. That’s what researchers at Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, and the University of Ann Arbor, Michigan, found when they gave a group of 24 men and women aged 55 to 87 zinc gluconate capsules for a year, when compared to the 25 people who got placebos. Although the group taking the zinc was healthy as a whole, 35% of them were zinc deficient.
Each day for 12 months, the people in the zinc-supplemented group received one capsule containing 15 mg elemental zinc orally one hour before breakfast and two capsules before going to bed.
The researchers monitored how often the participants got sick and measured blood levels of zinc as well as markers for inflammation and oxidative stress. During the year, those taking the zinc supplements came down with only seven infections in contrast to the placebo group which had 35 infections. Seventeen subjects in the zinc-supplemented group had no infections during the study, but only three subjects in the placebo group had no evidence of infection. Also, markers for inflammation and oxidative stress were significantly lower in the group taking zinc, indicating a stronger immune system.
The researchers concluded that because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and because zinc had a therapeutic effect on all subjects—including those who were not zinc deficient—zinc supplementation can help reduce infections in people as they get older.4
These articles are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always consult with a physician before embarking on a dietary supplement program.
Prasad, A. S. (2003). “Zinc deficiency” British Medical Journal326 (7386): 409–410.
Marcia Wood, “Zooming In on Zinc”March 2002 issue of Agricultural Research Magazine.
Briefel, R., Bialostosky, K, Kennedy-Stephenson, J, McDowell, M.A., Ervin, B., Wright, J.D. “Zinc Intake of the U.S. Population: Findings from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988–1994” Journal of Nutrition. 2000;130:1367S-1373S
Prasad, A.S., Beck, F., Bao, B., James T Fitzgerald, J.T., Snell, D.C., Steinberg, J.D, Cardozo, L.J. “Zinc supplementation decreases incidence of infections in the elderly: effect of zinc on generation of cytokines and oxidative stress.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 85, No. 3, 837-844, March, 2007.