We are all looking for ways to strengthen our immune system. You might think to consume more vitamin C or vitamin D to enhance your immune system, but zinc actually has a major role to play in how it functions optimally. This micronutrient and mineral is essential for your body in so many ways.
How Zinc Can Strengthen Your Immune System
What’s interesting is that a lack of zinc can leave you more susceptible to illness and disease. Zinc is responsible for multiple functions in the body and is involved in at least 100 enzyme processes. Maintaining a strong and robust immune system is crucial for your health and overall well-being.
Here are five ways zinc can strengthen your immune system and keep you healthy:
- Support your immune system
- Fight the common cold
- Reduce inflammation
- Regulate wound healing
- Decrease the risk of age-related disease
What is Zinc?
Zinc is a trace element that is necessary for a properly functioning immune system. You only need to intake a small amount of zinc to reap the benefits. Currently, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 8mg for both men and women. As your body doesn’t produce zinc on its own, you need to get the mineral through the food you eat or by taking a supplement.
Zinc deficiency is common worldwide, but particularly in developing countries. Your body uses zinc for so many things like fighting off infections, healing wounds, and creating DNA. When your lacking zinc in your diet, you may start to experience several side effects such as:
- Hair loss
- Lack of alertness
- Unexplained weight loss
- Wounds that won’t heal properly
- Loss of appetite
Related: Zinc Deficiency Risks and Causes
The Role Zinc Has to Play in Immunity
It’s important to maintain adequate levels of zinc in your diet to support and strengthen your immune system. There are several ways that zinc can support the immune system. Severe zinc deficiency impairs the immune system, making it absolutely crucial for fighting off colds and infections.
While there’s a clear link between zinc deficiency and immune function, the research into the precise molecular mechanism by which zinc influences the immune system is still ongoing. Research shows that the body needs zinc to develop and produce T-cells. T-cells are an essential part of the immune system and help you to fight off infection.
As the seasons start to change, colder weather arrives and brings more flu and cold infections. It’s important to strengthen your immune system to help you fight off colds and feel your best. As well as upping your zinc intake, there are other things you can do to support your immune system like reduce stress, exercise, and regular handwashing.
5 Ways Zinc Benefits Your Immune System
1. Supports Your Immune System
Zinc activates enzymes in the body that break down the proteins in viruses and bacteria.
Australian researchers found that zinc can actually ‘starve’ off one of the world’s deadliest bacteria. Streptococcus pneumoniae is responsible for more than one million deaths every year, causing pneumonia, meningitis, and other serious infectious diseases. Researchers found that zinc stops a protein transporter so that it can’t take up manganese. The bacteria needs manganese to invade, spread, and cause disease in humans. The interesting discovery shows how zinc can play such a pivotal role in preventing the spread of infection.
Related: How to Have an Awesome Immune System
2. Fight the Common Cold
One way zinc can help fight off illnesses is by reducing the severity of the common cold. Research shows that zinc may reduce the length of your cold. A study published in the Open Respiratory Medicine Journal found that zinc lozenges shorten the length of a cold by 40%.
Another review shows that zinc may be beneficial for reducing cold duration and the severity of a cold. The research investigated the effects of zinc lozenges or syrups. Healthy people showed an improvement in symptoms when taking zinc lozenges within 24 hours of the onset of the first symptoms.
Zinc is an essential nutrient that helps to regulate and maintain immune function. The mineral is often found in many over-the-counter cold treatments and natural remedies. Alongside things like garlic and ginger, zinc could be a useful addition to your natural medicine cupboard.
3. Reduce Inflammation
A growing body of research is looking at how zinc may reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response. It’s a natural part of your body’s response to injury and infection. The inflammation signals your body to start the repair process. But too much inflammation can cause the immune system to keep fighting indefinitely, even when there’s no pathogens or foreign invaders to combat. Chronic inflammation has been linked to several diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis.
One study by Ohio State University found that zinc helps to control infections in a way that stops inflammation from getting out of control. The research shows that zinc supports the immune system by stopping inflammation before it becomes chronic and damaging to the body. What’s more is that researchers found that when there isn’t enough zinc present at the time of infection, there is excessive inflammation.
4. Regulate Wound Healing
Zinc plays a significant role in wound healing. One of zinc’s jobs is to maintain skin integrity and structure. Often, patients with chronic ulcers and wounds have lower or deficient levels of zinc. One Swedish study found that applying zinc topically to a wound may stimulate healing while decreasing inflammation and bacterial growth.
Research shows that zinc plays an integral role in every part of the wound healing journey. From the very beginning of the repair process to coagulation, and scar formation, zinc is absolutely essential. Zinc deficiency can negatively affect the wound healing process.
5. Decrease the Risk of Age-Related Disease
Increasing your zinc intake either through diet or supplementation may help to lower the risk of developing age-related chronic diseases. The mineral appears to affect how the immune system responds to stimulation. Research shows that zinc deficiency may play a role in chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes, especially in older adults.
These types of diseases that are linked to inflammation may be influenced by zinc. Things like heart disease and diabetes tend to show up later in life. Older adults are at a higher risk of developing a zinc deficiency. It’s clear that zinc plays a crucial role in the immune system, but it appears to influence inflammation which could be vital for combating chronic disease as you get older.
How to Boost Your Zinc Intake
Zinc is involved in so many important processes in the body. It metabolizes nutrients, repairs body tissue, and regulates and maintains the immune system. Your body doesn’t produce zinc, nor does it store the mineral. This means you need to ingest zinc-rich foods or supplements every day to make sure you’re hitting your daily intake.
It’s always best to get your nutrients from your diet. Eating a healthy and balanced diet is a natural way to sneak some zinc-rich foods into your meals. To up your zinc intake, make a conscious effort to consume more foods that are rich in this trace elemen.
10 Plant-Based Foods High In Zinc:
- Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, beans and peas
- Seeds: hemp, squash, and pumpkin
- Whole grains
- Tofu and tempeh
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Cocoa powder
The immune system is complex. There are a lot of working parts involved in a strong and robust immune system. While there is no one single thing you can do to protect yourself from 100% of infections, bacteria, and pathogens, there are things you can do to boost your immune system.
Another way to kickstart your immune system in time for the cold weather is by adding medicinal mushrooms to your routine. Mushrooms like reishi, lion’s mane, and turkey tail have all been shown to have immune-boosting and antioxidant properties to fight free radicals in the body.
Zinc is a trace element and essential micronutrient that the human body needs to thrive. It plays a role in healthy aging, immune function, and supports normal growth and development from birth. As a massively understated mineral, it’s a good idea to include foods rich in zinc to your diet to boost your intake and strengthen your immune system. There are a lot of easy ways to add zinc to your diet. Simply sprinkle some hemp seeds on your salad or add some Shiitake mushrooms to your next meal. If you’re worried that you’re not getting enough zinc through your diet, consider speaking to your healthcare provider about the possibility of taking a supplement. And remember, a strong and healthy immune system keeps you feeling your best, no matter the season.