Studies suggest that zinc lozenges or syrups can help accelerate recovery from a cold and reduce symptoms of a cold by taking it within 24 hours of a cold, but not zinc supplements in tablet form. Health care providers often recommend zinc supplements for people with zinc deficiency.
In people with AIDS, low zinc levels can lead to poor drug intake, zinc loss, vomiting, and diarrhea. People with malabsorption syndromes such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease also have a lack of zinc. Low zinc levels can also make the body more susceptible to infections known as opportunistic infections.
Studies have shown that HIV-positive people who take zinc have fewer infections, gain weight, and have a better immune response. Research indicates that sufficient zinc levels are required for a healthy immune system. Zinc has many different functions in the body and some properties of immunity can malfunction with age and similar to zinc deficiency this suggests that declining zinc is an important factor in the age-related decline of immune function.
Zinc is indispensable for DNA synthesis and cell proliferation. For this reason, proliferating cells, especially immune cells, depend on a sufficient supply of zinc. Zinc deficiency affects the growth and function of several kinds of immune cells (macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, T cells, and B cells).
Zinc is an important micronutrient (mineral) that is essential in many ways for the body: it helps with wound healing and supports normal growth. In addition to its role in the immune system, zinc reduces oxidative stress, plays a structural role in stabilizing proteins, and regulates the expression of many genes that drive hundreds of chemical reactions in the body.
Zinc is found in a variety of foods, but it should not be forgotten that phytate is an important storage form of phosphorus, which binds to zinc and inhibits its uptake. The body needs zinc to make proteins and DNA (genetic material) in cells. Our body cannot produce zinc in any way, so it must come from our food or supplements.
Doctors need to consider risk factors such as a poor diet, the presence of inflammatory bowel disease, alcoholism, and symptoms of zinc deficiency to determine whether a zinc supplement is necessary. Vegetarians have a higher risk of zinc deficiency because they do not eat meat and seafood.
For this reason, vegetarians may need to consume up to 50% more zinc than the recommended amount. Vegetarians may need 50% or more of RDA to account for reduced zinc intake due to the presence of phytate. Excessive zinc intake and copper deficiency can cause neurological problems such as numbness and weakness in the arms and legs. Alcoholic beverages reduce the amount of zinc the body absorbs and increase the amount that is lost in the urine. Many alcoholics eat limited amounts of a variety of foods, so they do not get enough zinc.
This condition reduces the amount of zinc that the body absorbs and increases the amount that is lost in the urine. Vegetarians consume a larger quantity of foods that contain a high proportion of phytates, plant compounds that inhibit zinc absorption, such as cereals and legumes. Beans and cereals that vegetarians eat have compounds that prevent zinc from being absorbed by the body.
For other people, the recommended maximum amount (see How much zinc is needed) should not be exceeded in the long term. Dietary supplements are not recommended for children as the risk of zinc deficiency is low and zinc toxicity develops.
Early indications suggest zinc may help treat Wilson’s disease, a condition that causes copper to accumulate in the body. Because zinc reduces how much copper the body absorbs, it can help lower copper levels in people with Wilson’s disease. If you have HIV / AIDS, talk to your doctor before taking a zinc supplement.
Zinc is an essential mineral, which means that when the body consumes it, it is unable to replenish its own supply. Before we talk about the specific benefits of zinc for the immune system, let us examine its diverse roles in human health, various zinc sources, and common health factors that are known to increase the risk of a zinc deficiency.
Zinc deficiency affects 2 billion people worldwide, including an estimated 40 percent of the older people in the United States who are twice as likely to end up in intensive care as Americans. Research and previous work linking zinc deficiency to inflammation suggest that supplementation can help sick ICU patients, but it’s too early to make that leap.
Researchers say they have gained important insights into how zinc can help the immune system fight infections. One study showed that zinc can halt an out-of-control immune system, and the researchers say this may explain why taking a zinc supplement at the beginning of a cold can curb its severity. Knoell’s lab has also shown that mice with zinc deficiency develop an overwhelming inflammatory response and sepsis compared to mice with normal diets.
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