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Zinc for immune health

Benefits of Zinc to Your Immune System

, by AussiePharmaDirect, 8 min reading time

Do you know that zinc can also contribute to the health of the immune system? While Vitamin C is often touted as one of the best nutrients for maintaining optimal immune health, we often overlook the significant role that zinc plays in bolstering our immune defences. 

In this blog, we will shed light on the lesser-known benefits of zinc, particularly its impact on the immune system, foods with zinc, daily intake, and more.

What is zinc?

Zinc is an essential trace mineral, which means that our bodies require it in small amounts for proper functioning. While our bodies cannot produce zinc naturally, we need to obtain it through external sources such as our diet or supplements. Even though the quantities needed may be small, zinc acts as a crucial facilitator in various physiological processes.

What does zinc do in the body?

Cells in our body rely on zinc to carry out essential functions. Zinc is involved in the structure and stability of cellular membranes, ensuring the integrity and functionality of cells. It assists in maintaining proper DNA replication and gene expression, enabling cells to divide and grow in a controlled manner.

Furthermore, zinc serves as a cofactor for numerous enzymes, meaning it is necessary for their activity. Enzymes are catalysts that facilitate chemical reactions in the body. Zinc acts as a cofactor, binding to enzymes and activating them, participating in processes such as protein synthesis, carbohydrate metabolism, lipid metabolism, and the breakdown of DNA and RNA. Without sufficient zinc, these enzymatic reactions may be impaired or slowed down, negatively impacting overall cellular function.

In the immune system, zinc plays a crucial role in the development and functioning of immune cells. Zinc deficiency can compromise immune responses, making individuals more susceptible to infections and impairing their ability to fight off diseases. So it is always good to watch out for any zinc deficiency symptoms.

What is zinc good for?

Zinc plays a vital role in maintaining a robust immune system, with some of the key benefits including:

  • Immune function
  • Wound healing
  • Enzyme activity
  • Protein synthesis 
  • Sense of taste and smell
  • Growth and development
  • Cognitive function
  • Antioxidant defence
  • Reproductive

How does zinc help the immune system?

Our immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that tirelessly work together to protect our bodies from harmful invaders. In the intricate world of immune health, zinc is a silent hero that plays an important role in the immune system just like the other nutrient sources. 

1. Essential for the development and functioning of immune cells
Zinc supports the maturation, activation, and optimal response of immune cells like T cells, B cells, natural killer cells, and neutrophils.

2.  Aids in immune cell signalling and cytokine release
Zinc stimulates the release of cytokines, which are important for coordinating immune responses and communication between immune cells. Proper cytokine release ensures appropriate immune responses to infections and helps maintain immune system balance.

3. Possesses antiviral properties
Zinc has been found to inhibit the replication of various viruses, including those causing common respiratory infections. By interfering with viral entry and replication, zinc supports the immune system in combating viral infections.

4 . Helps regulate inflammation
Excessive inflammation can lead to tissue damage and contribute to chronic diseases. Zinc plays a role in modulating inflammatory responses, maintaining immune system balance.

5. Supports physical barriers of the body
Zinc helps maintain the integrity and strength of physical barriers like the skin and mucosal surfaces. Strengthening these barriers prevents the entry of harmful microorganisms and reduces the risk of infection.

What food contains zinc?

By including a combination of these high-zinc foods in your diet, you can ensure an adequate intake of this important mineral, however, it is important to note that zinc content in foods may vary depending on factors like soil quality and processing methods. 

Food with zinc

In addition to consuming food rich in zinc, zinc supplements can be considered as a means to meet the recommended intake of this important mineral, however, the decision to take zinc supplements should be based on several factors and individual considerations.

  • Dietary intake: It is essential to evaluate your dietary intake of zinc. If your diet consistently falls short of meeting the recommended zinc intake, supplements may be a valuable option to bridge the gap.
  • Specific needs: Certain life stages and conditions may warrant additional zinc supplementation. For example, pregnant and lactating women have increased zinc requirements, and supplementation may be advised to support maternal and fetal health. Individuals with certain health conditions that affect zinc absorption or metabolism may also benefit from supplementation.
  • Zinc deficiency: If you have been diagnosed with zinc deficiency through medical tests, zinc supplements can be an effective way to restore optimal zinc levels in your body. This should be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
  • Vegan or vegetarian diets: Plant-based diets may be lower in bioavailable zinc compared to animal-based diets. If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, it is important to ensure adequate zinc intake through a combination of zinc-rich plant foods and, if necessary, supplements.

What’s the recommended daily intake of zinc?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the recommended daily intake of zinc varies based on age, sex, and life stage. The following are the WHO's recommendations for daily zinc intake:

  • Infants (7-12 months): 2-3 mg
  • Children (1-9 years): 3-5 mg
  • Adolescent males (10-19 years): 9-11 mg
  • Adolescent females (10-19 years): 7-9 mg
  • Adult males: 9-11 mg
  • Adult females: 7-9 mg
  • Pregnant females: 11-12 mg
  • Lactating females: 11-13 mg

Side effects of zinc

While zinc is generally safe and well-tolerated when consumed within recommended dosages, excessive intake of zinc can lead to side effects such as:

  • Gastrointestinal disturbances: Taking too much zinc can cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and abdominal cramps. These symptoms are more likely to occur when zinc is consumed on an empty stomach.
  • Metallic taste or mouth irritation: Excessive zinc intake can result in a metallic taste in the mouth or mouth irritation. This sensation can be unpleasant but is usually temporary and resolves once zinc intake is reduced.
  • Reduced copper absorption: High levels of zinc can interfere with the absorption of copper, another essential mineral. Copper deficiency can lead to symptoms such as anaemia, fatigue, and neurological problems. It is important to maintain an appropriate balance between zinc and copper intake.
  • Suppressed immune function: While zinc is crucial for a healthy immune system, extremely high doses of zinc can have an opposite effect and suppress immune function. Prolonged excessive zinc intake can impair immune responses and increase the risk of infections.
  • Interactions with medications and other supplements: Zinc supplements can interact with certain types of supplements and medications, including antibiotics and medications for treating rheumatoid arthritis. It is important to consult with healthcare professionals or pharmacists to determine any potential interactions between zinc supplements and medications you may be taking.

Key takeaways

From supporting immune function and wound healing to promoting proper growth and development, zinc is one of the key players in ensuring our optimal health especially when you have good dietary habits. When it comes to zinc supplementation, however, it is crucial to approach it with caution and consult a healthcare professional to ensure the right intake and avoid potential adverse effects that could be detrimental to health.


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