Zinc keeps the immune system strong, but what happens if you’re low on zinc?
When you’re low on zinc your immune system can suffer, and roughly 2 billion people worldwide are considered deficient. (1)
The good news is that zinc deficiency is pretty easy to fix as long as you eat healthily.
Let’s take a closer look at zinc and immune function…
What Is Zinc?
Zinc is the second-most abundant mineral in the body and is present in every cell.
You can only get zinc from diet and nutrition.
The body can’t store zinc, so you should eat plenty of zinc-rich foods like grass-fed beef and wild-caught seafood.
Zinc Is Important for Just About Everything
Zinc is used by the body in countless ways, including:
Growth and development
Immune function (2)
And the list goes on and on…
When the body grows, it relies on zinc for cell growth and division.
Zinc is also important for the five senses, especially taste and smell.
Have you ever been sick and lost your sense of taste? Zinc deficiency was probably part of the problem.
Worst of all, when you’re low on zinc you’re more likely to get sick.
According to researchers at the University of California, “Zinc deficiency results in dysfunction of both humoral and cell-mediated immunity and increases the susceptibility to infection.” (3)
Zinc: The Gatekeeper of the Immune System
Researchers have named zinc the “gatekeeper of the immune system” because it has its fingers in most key functions of the immune system.
For starters, it regulates the communication pathways and tells the immune cells when to take action.
Without zinc, your white blood cells would hardly do a thing!
At the same time, zinc has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
When you’re low on zinc, chronic inflammation is much more likely to snowball into a serious disease.
Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency
Common symptoms and side effects of zinc deficiency include:
Regularly getting sick
Frequent skin rashes/infections
Inability to heal wounds
Always feeling tired
Stunted growth in children
Delayed sexual maturity
Who Is Most At Risk of Zinc Deficiency?
Zinc deficiency is more common among the elderly and in developing countries where nutrition is poor.
Believe it or not, nearly 30 percent of the world’s elderly population is zinc deficient. Yikes! (4)
As a result, zinc deficiency is the fifth leading cause of poor quality of life as you age.
With that said, young children with zinc deficiency tend to have the worst side effects.
Shockingly, experts link zinc deficiency to over 450,000 deaths per year in children under age five. (5)
Some of the most at-risk individuals are:
Vegetarians and vegans
Patients with Crohn’s disease and other gut issues
Older infants who are strictly breastfeed
Sickle cell anemia patients
Chronic kidney disease patients
People with eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia
In some cases, genetics can also play a role.
Unfortunately, zinc deficiency can be hard to detect with laboratory tests, so you may still be deficient despite clear test results.
That’s why it’s so important to eat zinc-rich foods!
Best Foods for Zinc
The best zinc-rich foods are:
Shellfish like oysters, crabs, mussels, lobster, and clams
Meat like beef, lamb, bison, turkey, and chicken
Fish like sardines, salmon, and flounder
Vegetables like kale, mushrooms, asparagus, peas, and beet greens
Oysters contain the most zinc out of any food.
Other animal products, like meat and fish, are also extremely high in zinc and are easy to absorb.
Plant-based sources, on the other hand, are less effective because they’re more difficult for the body to absorb. (6)
Dairy products, whole grains, and legumes like beans and lentils are high in zinc, but they’re also pro-inflammatory.
Certain grains, like breakfast cereals and oats, are often fortified with zinc, but they are not a great natural source.
If you don’t eat meat you’re certainly at a disadvantage.
Most vegans and vegetarians should consult a nutritionist about taking zinc supplements.
10 Benefits of Zinc and Immune Function
Along with vitamin C, zinc might be the single-most-important nutrient for stronger immunity.
It supports immune cells, reduces oxidative stress, and makes you less prone to illness and disease.
Here’s a closer look at some of the amazing benefits of zinc and immune function:
1. Is a Powerful Antioxidant
Zinc is a potent antioxidant: nutrients that reduce the cellular damage caused by inflammation.
Ultimately, illness and inflammation can trigger oxidative stress, mutate the cells and cause disease.
For example, one recent study found that levels of oxidative stress were much lower in patients who take zinc supplements. (7)
Zinc even helps old cells regenerate before they have a chance to turn into cancer.
2. Fights Colds and Infections
Zinc supplementation may lower rates of infections and illness.
As it turns out, even mild zinc deficiency can damage white blood cells.
On the flipside, zinc plays a key role in restoring balance to the body following an infection.
Zinc supplements are most effective when you take them consistently for at least five months.
With that said, if you wait until you’re already sick zinc may still speed up the healing process.
For example, one review found that daily zinc supplementation can reduce the length of the common cold by up to 33 percent! (8)
All you have to do is take it within the first 24 hours of falling ill.
3. Speeds Up Wound Healing
Zinc accelerates wound healing from ulcers, burns, and other skin injuries.
For example, a 12-week clinical trial found that zinc supplementation can greatly reduce diabetic foot ulcers. (9)
That’s because zinc helps the body produce collagen: a type of protein that regulates immunity and controls the inflammatory response.
Together, zinc and collagen are the perfect duos for faster wound healing.
4. Fights Acne
If it can heal a wound, it can certainly heal your acne!
After all, acne is nothing more than bacteria and skin inflammation at its worst.
Luckily, the skin holds about 5 percent of the body’s zinc so there’s always plenty around.
As it turns out, people with acne have lower levels of zinc.
Studies show that both topical ointments and zinc supplements can treat acne by reducing oil build-up, killing P. acnes bacteria, and fighting inflammation. (10)
Experts believe that zinc supplements can be an effective, low-cost alternative to common acne treatments with fewer side effects.
5. Reduces the Risk of Age-Related Disease
The older you get, the more likely you are to have a zinc deficiency.
Fortunately, consuming more zinc may reduce the risk of age-related diseases, like:
Macular degeneration (eye degeneration)
Poor memory and cognition
For example, one study found that older adults who took zinc had a reduced risk of pneumonia and improved mental performance. (11)
6. Balances Hormones
Zinc plays a key role in hormone production.
When it comes to immunity, hormone balance couldn’t be more important.
Zinc not only boosts healthy hormones, but it also reduces stress hormones that beat down the immune system.
In fact, taking zinc is one of the best ways to boost testosterone naturally.
At the same time, zinc impacts female sex hormones and improves fertility.
7. Fights Inflammation
Experts agree that inflammation is the root cause of most serious diseases.
Fortunately, zinc is a potent anti-inflammatory.
It reduces the release of inflammatory cytokines that damage soft tissues.
As a result, zinc decreases oxidative stress and prevents a variety of chronic illnesses, including heart disease and cancer. (12)
8. Support Muscle Recovery
Every time you workout, you break down and damage the muscles.
But don’t worry, as long as you have plenty of zinc your muscles should recover faster than ever.
Zinc supports muscle recovery by helping the body heal more effectively. (13)
This includes releasing testosterone and other muscle-building hormones, as well as boosting metabolism.
9. Promotes Gut Health and Nutrient Absorption
Where would your belly be without zinc?
Zinc helps the body digest carbohydrates and use amino acids from food to building proteins and repair cells.
Without zinc, it’s hard to absorb the nutrients in food.
As a result, zinc deficiency can lead to low energy and chronic fatigue.
Zinc deficiency is also linked to chronic digestive problems and diarrhea.
However, if you consume enough zinc you should be right as rain.
10. Supports the Liver and Fights Diabetes
Zinc also benefits the liver by reducing inflammation and promoting healthy waste removal.
At the same time, zinc fights diabetes by balancing hormones like insulin: the main hormone that regulates blood sugar.
Zinc also regulates weight by preventing glucose from being stored as fat.
Ultimately, zinc is a natural diabetes treatment, liver support, and immunity booster all rolled into one!
If you have any more questions about zinc and immune function, feel free to contact us at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’re more than happy to answer any questions you may have.