The Essential Role of Zinc in Immune Health
Zinc is a foundational mineral and one of the most common deficiencies in the world. Zinc is essential to human and animal growth patterns and has an essential role in the development of hormones and immune molecules. Zinc is one of the best mineral supplements to boost and balance out a tired and over stimulated immune system. This article goes into detail on the essential role of zinc in immune health.
Experts predict that almost 2 billion people which is roughly 25% of the world’s population is deficient in zinc (1). This is thought to be from inadequate consumption through the individual’s diet. From a functional health perspective there is a lot more zinc deficiency in our society due to poor biochemical pathways.
Depleting Our Zinc Stores:
When we have poor blood sugar signaling due to a diet that is high in sugar and carbohydrates we are unable to adequately absorb zinc. Individuals with leaky gut syndrome are often deficient in zinc from poor absorption.
Consuming high amounts of phytic acids in grains and legumes can adversely affect zinc levels. The regular use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) depletes zinc levels in the body as well.
Here are the most common symptoms associated with a zinc deficiency.
Zinc is Critical For Immune Health:
Zinc is critical for balancing the immune system and keeping the Th-1 and Th-2 systems in check. Zinc potentiates the action of the human cytokine interferon alpha, a protein that inhibits viral replication. This reduces immunological stress and improves the immune coordination (2).
Zinc is also a very specific component of specific enzymes in the body including superoxide dismutatse enzymes (SODs). SOD is a powerful intracellular anti-oxidant that protects the cellular genomics and prevents against viral infection and toxic debris accumulation within the cellular matrix.
Zinc Reduces Inflammation in the Body:
When the immune system recognizes a pathogen it sets off a series of molecules to create a process that activates the innate immune response. This process involves the Nuclear Factor – kappa Beta (NF-kB) pathway. Healthy immunity depends upon sensitive NF-kB activity but must reduce the over stimulation of NF-kB or we risk chronic inflammation (3).
Zinc plays an important role at it binds to a protein within the NF-kB pathway that halts its activity (4). This is a programmed shut down of the NF-kB pathway that reduces the effects of too much inflammatory activity within the cells. Without adequate zinc the NF-kB pathway gets over stimulated and creates chronic inflammatory conditions that have been linked to degenerative disease processes (5).
Zinc and Pyroluria:
Pyroluria, also called Malvaria, is a unique metabolic condition that is very rarely recognized in both the medical and natural health world. It is considered by many in the functional medicine world the most common unknown disorder.
There are several waste products that are produced when the body makes hemoglobin for the red blood cells. These waste products are called kryptopyrroles which are technically called hydroxyhemoppyrrolin-2-one (HPL) which are typically excreted by our body. Individuals with pyroluria are unable to clear the HPL effectively and they build up in the system (6, 7).
The HPL binds strongly to zinc, biotin and vitamin B6 which are critical nutrients for cellular metabolism. Over a period of time, the body becomes very deficient in these critical nutrients and symptoms arise. These individuals need high doses of these key nutrients and typically will need 60-100 mg of zinc supplementation daily.
Zinc Helps Reduce Cancer Cell Growth:
Zinc’s modulatory effect on NF-kB makes it a formidable player in the prevention of cancer cell growth patterns. It has been shown to decrease tumor cell angiogenesis and the induction of inflammatory cytokines. It also increases apoptosis (programmed cell death) in abnormal cell lines which reduces the chances of cancer growth (8).
Research shows that zinc is particularly important in prostate and breast cancers. A 2012 study showed that individuals with BRCA1 gene (strongly associated with breast cancer development) that had the highest levels of zinc had the lowest risk of cancer development. The study also showed that those with the lowest zinc levels had significantly elevated risk of developing breast cancer (9).
Zinc and Estrogen Balance:
In other research, Dr. David Watts reviewed the hair trace mineral reports of thousands of women and found that a pattern of elevated boron, copper and calcium levels with lower levels of zinc occurred in women with breast cancer. Dr Watts’ understanding is that boron and copper appear to make the body more sensitive to the stimulatory effects of estrogen, and less responsive to the quieting effects of progesterone.
Zinc is the mineral that aids in the production and utilization of progesterone, so this pattern of mineralization makes women less progesterone responsive and more estrogen sensitive. Raising zinc levels and lowering boron, copper and calcium levels can bring these women into mineral balance and help in the creation of hormonal balance.
The primary gene protecting men from prostate cancer and women from breast cancer is the p53 gene. This is thought to be the guardian of the human genome. When this gene becomes mutated it allows for the development of cancer. The gene requires zinc and zinc deficiencies are shown to cause mutated versions of the p53 gene (10). This dramatically raises the risk of breast and prostate cancer cell development.
How much Zinc Should You Take In?
The best food sources of zinc include oysters, shellfish, meat, eggs, whole grains, nuts and seeds. I personally do not recommend oysters or shellfish due to toxic bioaccumulation in these animal sources. Grass-fed beef and organ meat and eggs from 100% pasture based animals are much better sources. Sprouted pumpkin, sunflower, hemp and chia seeds are also fantastic sources of zinc.
The recommended daily allowance for zinc is between eight to eleven milligrams for most adults. However, for functional health most progressive nutritionists and doctors recommend between 30-40 mg/daily. Zinc can be a problem when one takes in more than 100 mg/daily. The preferred form of zinc is in an amino acid chelate such as glycinate chelate.
Sources For This Article Include:
- Zinc Deficiency Link Here
- Ohio State University. “Zinc helps against infection by tapping brakes in immune response.” Science Daily.
- Gerondakis S, Fulford TS, Messina NL, Grumont RJ. NF-κB control of T cell development. Nat Immunol. 2014 Jan;15(1):15-25. PMID: 24352326
- Prasad AS, Beck FW, Snell DC, Kucuk O. Zinc in cancer prevention. Nutr Cancer. 2009;61(6):879-87. PMID: 20155630
- Heyninck K, De Valck D, Vanden Berghe W, Van Criekinge W, Contreras R, Fiers W, Haegeman G, Beyaert R. The zinc finger protein A20 inhibits TNF-induced NF-kappaB-dependent gene expression by interfering with an RIP- or TRAF2-mediated transactivation signal and directly binds to a novel NF-kappaB-inhibiting protein ABIN. J Cell Biol. 1999 Jun 28;145(7):1471-82. PMID: 10385526
- Walker JL. Neurological and behavioral toxicity of kryptopyrrole in the rat. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1975 Mar-Apr;3(2):243-50. PMID: 1096175
- Krischer K, Pfeiffer CC. Biochemical relationship between kryptopyrrole (mauve factor and trans-3-methyl-2-hexenoic acid (schizophrenia odor). Res Commun Chem Pathol Pharmacol. 1973 Jan;5(1):9-15. PMID: 4686114
- Sunderman FW Jr. The influence of zinc on apoptosis. Ann Clin Lab Sci. 1995 Mar-Apr;25(2):134-42. PMID: 7785963
- Kaczmarek K, Jakubowska A, Sukiennicki G, et al. Zinc and breast cancer risk. Hereditary Cancer in Clinical Practice. 2012;10(Suppl 4):A6.
- Loh, S. The missing Zinc: p53 misfolding and cancer. Metallomics, 2010,2, 442-449