When it comes to keeping your body alive and healthy, nutrients are a must. There are nutrients your body needs in large amounts called macronutrients, which include carbs, proteins, and fats. These nutrients provide the energy your body needs to carry out its normal everyday functions. Then, there are micronutrients which your body needs in small amounts. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals. These nutrients do not provide energy, but they enable the many chemical reactions that regulate body function.
Most of us are well-acquainted with carbs, proteins, and fats, as they make an appearance at each of our meals and have become popular health discussion topics.
Our knowledge of vitamins has also increased as more information has become available regarding their importance to our health.
Minerals, on the other hand, are less talked about and are less well-known. That doesn’t mean they are any less important. In fact, minerals are just as essential as the other nutrients and when it comes to supporting immune system health, there is one that stands out—zinc.
Zinc is the second most abundant mineral in the body.1 It is required for the activity of hundreds of enzymes and plays a role in many body processes such as protein synthesis, wound healing, and cell division.
Zinc has also been shown to be a key player in immune system health. Beginning in the 1960’s, studies on zinc-deficient individuals highlighted the importance of zinc for proper immune system function.2 Though research is still in the beginning stages, much has been discovered about how zinc works to keep the immune system functioning optimally. Here is what we know so far:
1. Zinc is vital for the development of immune system cells2,3
Your body has many different kinds of immune system cells, and zinc is required for the maturation and differentiation of those cells. When zinc in your body falls below a certain threshold, the development of cells involved in both innate (general) and adaptive (specialized) immunity is compromised. These cells include macrophages, Natural Killer (NK) cells, T-cells, and B-cells.
2. Zinc is essential for proper immune system cell function2
Immune cell functions, such as the removal of foreign invaders and cytokine production, are dependent on zinc.
3. Zinc is needed for immune system cell communication4
Zinc has been shown to act as a signaling molecule, controlling a variety of immune cell activities.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), adults need between 8-11 mg of zinc per day.5 Because the body doesn’t make zinc naturally, it is considered an essential nutrient and must be obtained through your diet. A wide variety of foods contain zinc, including red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products. However, animal foods are generally considered a better source of zinc due to the presence of phytates in grains and plant foods, which bind zinc and inhibit its absorption.
Although most people likely get enough zinc through their diet, some people may require additional amounts. This can be achieved by either increasing consumption of zinc rich foods or taking a zinc supplement. To promote absorption, most zinc found in supplements is chelated, which means it is bound to another molecule, typically an amino acid. Common types of zinc supplements include:
When considering a zinc supplement, it is always a good idea to discuss with your healthcare provider prior to use to avoid potential adverse health effects.
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