Zinc is known to help fight off viruses and bacteria, and a new study shows one big reason why: zinc controls infections by gently halting the body’s immune response in order to prevent inflammation that can be quite damaging.
What happens is that a protein lures zinc into cells that are first-responders against infection. Zinc moderates this fight and, as such, helps balance your immune response. For the first time, we find out that zinc hones in here to ensure the immune system does not spiral out of control. If a virus strikes and you have low levels of zinc, the consequences include excessive inflammation (the cause of a myriad of illnesses).
These findings may help to explain why taking zinc tablets or lozenges at the start of a common cold helps to stem the effects of the illness. But the big thing to note here is that without proper zinc levels during an infection, you are at a disadvantage, because your defense system is inappropriately amplified.
About two billion people in the world suffer zinc deficiency. That includes 40% of older adults in the United States, the most likely demographic to end up in intensive care.
Previously, researchers showed that zinc-deficient mice experienced significant inflammation in response to “sepsis” (the body’s severe response to bacteria). Zinc supplementation improved outcomes in the zinc-deficient mice.
Until now, zinc’s benefits in fighting infection haven’t been fully understood. This is due to zinc’s vastly complex role in our bodies. Only 10% of it, in fact, is accessible to defend against infection. So this helps narrow a gap in understanding—which is always important when you are deciding which supplements to purchase.
The key word is “balance”: our powerful immune system must work under strict balance. More is not always better. Zinc makes sure this balance is not left unchecked, which could result in too much inflammation and possible attacks against the body’s healthy tissues (which leads to autoimmune diseases).
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Most adults need eight to 11 milligrams (mg) of zinc a day. Zinc is predominantly found in red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains, and dairy products. There are also supplements. More than 40 mg a day of zinc is too much.
This research team is continuing to look at zinc, infections, and inflammation. They seek to answer questions about whether the essential mineral should be considered as an intervention for specific disorders. In the near future, we may be using zinc supplements strategically to improve certain health conditions.
As it stands, this reinforces why we shouldn’t forget about adequate zinc levels, particularly during cold and flu seasons.
Sources for Today’s Articles:
New Discovery: How Zinc Can Help with Infections
“ZIP8 Regulates Host Defense through Zinc-Mediated Inhibition of NF-κB,” Cell Reports, published online February 7, 2013.