Zinc is not only vital to our overall health, is also one of the most important minerals for our immune system. Here’s everything you need to know about zinc, including what it is, how to get it and the role zinc plays in immune system health.
What is zinc?
Zinc is an essential mineral that plays an important role in many bodily processes. It’s also a trace mineral, meaning although it’s crucial, our bodies don’t need vast amounts of it.
Since our bodies can’t make it, zinc can only be absorbed through the diet.
What does zinc do?
Zinc is necessary for almost 100 enzymes to carry out their work. Zinc plays a role in the creation of DNA, growth of cells, building proteins, healing damaged tissue and supporting a healthy immune system. What else is zinc good for? Zinc is also required for proper sense of taste and smell.
What are the benefits of zinc?
Zinc is a vital element in various physiological processes. It plays a pivotal role in our cellular metabolism (converting food to energy) and protein synthesis. One of the key benefits of zinc is that it helps you maintain a healthy immune system.
Does zinc help the immune system?
The role of zinc differs depending on the aspect of our immune system defence. It’s crucial for the normal development of cells that are responsible for our innate immune defences. It’s also vital for the communication between immune cells, helping them signal to each other. Immune responses are also dependent on zinc when macrophages (large white blood cells which are an important part of our immune system) are released.
But that’s not all when it comes to zinc and the immune system. One of the clinical signs of zinc deficiency is a weakened immune system. Severe zinc deficiency has been found to lead to a compromised immune system and even mild to moderate degrees of deficiency have been found to reduce immune function.
What are zinc-rich foods?
As our bodies do not produce zinc and can only store limited amounts, it needs to be consumed through the diet.
The good news is, most people meet their RDI (recommended daily intake) of zinc through their diet alone, with women needing 8mg and men needing 11mg. Foods rich in zinc include:
- Red meat
- Fortified cereals
Zinc also supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence so it’s well worth ensuring that you’re consuming zinc-rich foods.
Is it good to take zinc every day?
As we only need a small amount of zinc in our bodies, we can usually obtain enough by consuming a healthy and varied diet. However, some people may benefit from taking a multivitamin containing zinc or a standalone zinc supplement, such as elderly or vegetarians, to ensure they are consuming the recommended amount.
- Zinc | Nutrient Reference Values, 2020
- Harvard School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source: Zinc. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/zinc/ Sourced 26 July 2023
- National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health & Human Services. Zinc Factsheet. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
- Shankar AH, Prasad AS. Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection. Am J Clin Nutr 1998;68:447S-63S. [PubMed abstract]
- Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. Contribution of selected vitamins and trace elements to immune function. Ann Nutr Metab 2007;51:301-23. [PubMed abstract]