Benefits of Zinc: Immune Function and Beyond

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There are many reasons to take a quality multivitamin/mineral supplement every day. Just one of those reasons is the body’s need for trace minerals that are often deficient in our diets—and one we often don’t get enough of is zinc.

Zinc Deficiency Is Fairly Common

I don’t believe zinc deficiencies receive enough attention in this country. “Official” estimates state that only 10% of the general population has a zinc deficiency. But based on the current prevalence of health problems associated with low zinc levels, the use of many medications that deplete zinc or affects its absorption, and our current dietary habits, I believe that number is much higher.

Part of the problem in assessing zinc levels is the lack of any reliable laboratory test. Mild to moderate zinc deficiencies are typically made based on clinical symptoms. However, it is well-established that obvious deficiencies are common, especially among the elderly.

Why Your Body Needs Zinc

Zinc has many roles in the body. It is required for the synthesis of proteins and production of hormones, and is part of human DNA instrumental in cell division and cell synthesis. But one of zinc’s most important functions involves the immune system. For this reason, zinc deficiency and immune function are closely linked.

Because of zinc’s many jobs, symptoms of a zinc deficiency can vary widely:

  • Dermatological issues (acne, warts, herpes, rosacea)
  • Brittle nails
  • Hearing loss or tinnitus
  • Blood disorders
  • Baldness
  • Night blindness
  • Depression
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Blood sugar fluctuations
  • Prostate problems

Zinc Deficiency Linked to COVID-19

Taking zinc for immune system health is especially important today, with COVID-19 affecting the entire planet. Tests indicate that practically everyone who becomes symptomatic or succumbs to COVID-19 has been found to have a zinc deficiency. Unfortunately, I have yet to see or read anything addressing the link between zinc deficiency and immune function.

COVID-19 is just one of many viruses we face today. And it’s important to remember that zinc plays a crucial role in helping us deal not just with any new viruses that come along but with all forms of pathogens.

The body uses zinc, along with vitamin B6 and magnesium, to produce gamma linolenic acid (GLA). GLA is further processed to help produce the anti-inflammatory prostaglandin PGE1. Zinc is also needed by the thymus gland to promote the growth of T-cells for our immune system.

You’ve probably heard that the three most common risk factors among those who are most severely impacted by COVID-19 are high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. A deficiency of zinc is extremely common in each of these conditions. Additionally, many of the medications used to treat these issues either deplete zinc or inhibit its metabolism.

For example, ACE inhibitors and diuretics like thiazides used to treat high blood pressure reduce zinc levels. Zinc is commonly low in diabetics because of hyperglycemia and frequent urination. And proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which are very frequently prescribed for heartburn related to obesity, disrupt the production of stomach acid necessary for zinc absorption.

Furthermore, the two groups of people that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 are African Americans and the elderly. Studies have repeatedly shown that zinc deficiencies are very common in both of these demographics.

Zinc also stimulates red blood cell formation. Lower zinc levels lead to decreased red blood cell counts, which reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. COVID-19 infected cells destroy red blood cells. As the condition worsens, patients can’t get enough oxygen through regular breathing and must be put on ventilators. The common denominator in these cases is zinc.

How to Ensure You’re Getting Enough Zinc

Regularly taking a quality multivitamin/mineral will help supply your body not only with the necessary zinc, but other essential trace minerals and nutrients as well. You can also take a zinc supplement separately. The RDA for adult men is 11 mg per day and for adult women, 8 mg per day. But the tolerable upper intake level is 40 mg per day.

Plus, good food sources of zinc include:

  • Oysters (which is actually one of the very best food sources of zinc)
  • Wheat germ and bran
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Herring
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Garlic
  • Spinach
  • Brown rice
  • Crab
  • Shrimp

Unfortunately, many of these food sources of zinc are avoided by a large segment of the population, which makes it especially important to supplement.

Dr. David Williams

Meet Dr. David Williams

For more than 25 years, Dr. David Williams has traveled the world researching alternative therapies for our most common health problems—therapies that are inexpensive and easy to use, and therapies that treat the root cause of a problem rather than just its symptoms.

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