A lot has been written about zinc and its connection to boosting our immune system – protecting us from the common cold and flu. It is not without good reason, there are many clinical studies that cite the connection.
Zinc and Immune System
You may have heard zinc can boost your immune system and help protect you from disease.
Now you are wondering if it’s true.
Like Vitamin C, zinc has a reputation for being a nutrient that can help keep you well.
Nobody likes to feel ill. Being sick makes us feel lousy, lowers quality of life, and may prevent us from doing our work.
For many of us, becoming sick for any period of time may also lead to financial difficulties so it’s hard not to worry when the latest “bug” is doing the rounds.
Yet even when levels of sickness are very high, some people never seem to get ill or only remain so for a very short period of time.
They seem to simply shrug illness off while the rest of us have to go on suffering until our immune system manages to overpower the microbe invaders and put everything right.
So how is it that some people have such incredibly powerful immune systems?
Is it their lifestyle, their choice of food, or a particular supplement or combination of supplements they take? Could the secret be zinc?
The sad fact is, many of us neglect our health without giving it a second thought until we become ill.
We don’t get enough exercise, make poor food choices, and often drink too much alcohol and/or smoke cigarettes or vape.
The truth is, people who take care of their health and eat the right foods have a natural advantage when it comes to avoiding illness.
The human immune system requires many different nutrients to sustain it and keep it strong. One of them is zinc.
What is Zinc and What Does it Do?
Zinc is an essential mineral.
It serves many important roles in the body. One of them is helping to support healthy immune function.
Your body cannot create zinc, you have to get it from food or supplements.
When you hear the terms “essential mineral”, “essential vitamin”, or “essential nutrient” you know you are dealing with a nutrient your body cannot create.
The other important thing to know about essential nutrients is your body cannot store them. You need to keep levels topped-up every day.
Some of the things your body needs zinc for include:
- Wound healing
- Gene expression
- Immune function
- DNA synthesis
- Protein synthesis
- Enzymatic reactions
- Cell division
- Growth and development
As you can see, zinc is not only an immune system booster. It’s integral to many biological functions.
If you allow yourself to become zinc deficient it will have a negative impact on your health.
At this point, you are probably wondering how much zinc you need per day. As with other nutrients, the amount you require depends on your age.
During our early years, our sex generally doesn’t matter.
The zinc requirements for males and females are the same.
Then from the teen-years onward, women require slightly less zinc than men.
Conception and childbirth change the zinc requirement.
Women who are pregnant or lactating may need a tiny bit more.
Baby’s up to six years of age only need around 2 mg per day.
From six-months onward they need 3 mg of zinc per day until they are four-years-old. At this age, the recommended zinc intake becomes 5 mg per day.
Zinc requirments gradually increase with age.
However, as girls mature into women, the amount of zinc they require no longer keeps pace with that of males.
From 19-years of age onward, the average man needs 11 mg of zinc per day, while the average woman only needs to consume 8mg of zinc per day.
Which Foods Are High in Zinc?
Meat is an excellent source of zinc. Red meats can be especially good and are a source of protein as well.
In fact, each 100 g serving of uncooked ground beef provides around 4.8 mg of zinc. For many adults, that’s close to half the RDA.
Don’t worry if you are a vegan or vegetarian, meats are not the only foods that are high in zinc.
You can get it from many plant-based sources too including chickpeas, beans, and lentils.
Peanuts are a good source of zinc too. A 100 g serving will give you around 3.3 mg of zinc.
Mushrooms, broccoli, kale; there are many good vegetable sources of zinc.
If eating seafood is an option for you, many shellfish are high in zinc as well. Oysters are particularly good.
A single oyster usually provides around 5.3 mg of zinc.
Can Taking Zinc Supplements Help Keep You Well?
A significant amount of research shows the connection between zinc and good health.
Much of it suggests increasing zinc intake can help people to avoid disease.
Needless to say, the benefits a zinc supplement provides are more noticeable in people whose poor dietary choices have caused them to become zinc deficient.
Zinc is important.
We all need it every day.
Zinc doesn’t only support your immune system it helps you to maintain vitality and overall good health.
Can increasing zinc intake during periods of sickness help you recover faster? Research suggests that it can.
Some research suggests increasing zinc intake may also prevent you from becoming ill.
A Look at Some Research
Zinc and Immune Function
Researchers in Germany have termed Zinc as being a “gatekeeper of immune function” and are quick to point out the mineral is essential for the function of the immune system.”
After an in-depth review of numerous studies, the researchers concluded zinc deficiency can severely impair the immune system.
They coined the term “gatekeeper of immune function” because sustaining adequate levels of zinc is crucial for defense invading pathogens and for protecting the body from an overactive immune system.
However, although research proves the importance of zinc to immune function, the researchers admit further research is necessary to enable a better understanding of the processes involved.
Zinc and the Common Cold
The common cold is a viral infection that’s often transmitted by the airborne droplets infected people emit when they sneeze or cough.
Researchers in Finland conducted a study that involved giving cold sufferers zinc lozenges. This proved to be effective for reducing the duration of the illness.
The zinc doses were 80 to 207 mg per day. This exceeds the RDA but is not high enough to present dangers to the health.
Some of the participants were given lozenges that contained zinc acetate. Others got zinc gluconate.
The pooled estimate over the seven trials suggests a 33% reduction in the duration of the common cold duration.
However, the researchers point out the fact that many of the zinc lozenges being sold as cold cures do not contain enough zinc.
They also state doses higher than 100 mg per day are unlikely to offer additional benefit.
Some lozenges also contain additional substances, such as citric acid, that bind with zinc and prevent it from doing what it would normally do.
The researchers concluded by suggesting zinc lozenges and, in particular ones that contain zinc acetate, could be a viable cold treatment and encouraged people to try them for treating their colds.
Zinc as a Treatment for Respiratory Infections
Research from Thailand suggests zinc supplements may be an effective treatment for acute respiratory tract infection (ALRI).
The study examined the way zinc supplementation affected the treatment outcome for 64 children who were hospitalized with ALRI.
The youngest child was two-months-old. The eldest child was 60-months-old.
In a manner that is typical for such studies, some children were given the supplement (30 mg zinc) and others got a placebo.
The research shows ALRI cessation was faster for the children who got zinc.
They got better more quickly and were well enough to return home in a briefer period of time.
Apart from supporting the use of zinc supplements for reducing the recovery time for children with ALRI, the research also shows there an absence of tolerance issues or ill effects.
Guidance on How to Choose the Best Zinc-Boosting Supplement
If you want to boost your zinc intake, the most obvious way is to eat more zinc-rich food.
Another way is to take zinc in supplement form. If you wish to do this, there are several options available.
One way to boost your zinc intake is to take a supplement that’s designed to provide zinc.
Alternatively, any good multi-vitamin and mineral pill should provide you with all the zinc you need.
It’s also possible to buy zinc nasal sprays.
However, although it may seem like an interesting idea, it’s best to avoid sprays of this nature.
Many people who use them report experiencing problems with their senses of taste and smell.