Many of you have probably tried a zinc cold lozenge in hopes of fighting off a cold, and now a new bit of research in the journal Cell Reports may explain how this essential, relatively simple mineral might work. The study, led by Daren Knoell who is a professor of pharmacy and internal medicine at Ohio Statue University uncovered just how zinc works to balance the immune systems response to infection, tapping the brakes (so to speak) to prevent out of control inflammation.
On the cellular level zinc stops the activity of a protein that plays a key role in our natural immune response to infection. It acts to keep inflammation in check, inflammation that can be damaging, even deadly.
Surprisingly, a deficiency of zinc affects almost 2 billion people the world over, and this figure includes about 40% of the elderly in the United States. The lack of this mineral can have some unpleasant consequences for vulnerable people, or at the time of an infection could be very serious according to the researchers. If you don’t have enough zinc your immune system is amplified, and not in a good way.
After looking at animal studies and human cell cultures of those with sepsis (a dangerous systemic response to infection), Knoell and his team saw that a specific protein draws zinc into key infection fighting cells, first responders in the fight against infection. Here it balances the immune response. This is the first time this pathway has been studied. In earlier work in animals, Knoell found that mice deficient in zinc developed significant inflammation in response to sepsis than did the mice fed a normal diet.
This might explain why taking zinc supplements at the beginning of a cold seems to ease your symptoms. In the future, there may be therapeutic benefit to giving zinc supplements to some patients with certain conditions. But no one is saying that if very ill patients in hospital ICS’s, where sepsis can be life threatening, would benefit from supplements of zinc. Not all patients might need them, perhaps only a portion.
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How Zinc Fights Infection Continued…
The team also believes that the findings are applicable to other diseases and
will continue to study this pathway, inflammation and zinc deficiency. Without
enough zinc to start with, perhaps people are more likely to pick up an infection.
Most healthy adults should be getting from 8 (for women) to 11 (for men) milligrams of zinc each day. The U.S. National Institutes of Health tells us that natural sources of zinc include red meat and poultry. Other rich sources of zinc include nuts, beans, some shellfish (oysters, crab, lobster), whole grains, dairy products and fortified cereals. It’s also available as an affordable, easy to take dietary supplement.
If you’re looking for ways to help your immune system, living a healthy lifestyle is one of the best. This includes getting regular exercise (20 minutes with your heart rate up, three times a week), eating more natural sources of antioxidants (besides zinc, vitamin C, and E and beta carotene), being sure you’re getting enough sleep as fatigue increases your susceptibility to illness. Rounding out the list, manage your stress levels as cutting stress brings down levels of cortisol and helps you sleep better. Perhaps most fun of all… laugh as this brings down the levels of stress hormones and increases a type of white blood cell that fights infection.
To your good health,