Considering how much it’s been in the news recently, you’d think the D in vitamin D stands for “darling.” But that’s just the way it is with vitamins. Whether it’s D or E or C or K, vitamins get the research dollars, the healthcare industry’s interest, and the media spotlight.
Meanwhile, minerals (with the possible exception of calcium and magnesium) get almost no attention. Especially the trace metals like zinc. Let’s face it—the Z in zinc might as well stand for “zilch” in terms of the interest and respect it commands among so-called health experts.
But I think that’s about to change. Or at least it should, based on new research showing that zinc plays a key role in reducing the inflammation that leads to chronic, age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
I’ve always been a fan of zinc. If I had my way, the Z in zinc would stand for “zing” because of how it can help revitalize everything from your memory to your sex life. I’ll tell you all of the things that this essential mineral can do for you in a minute, but first let’s look at what may be zinc’s most important role of all.
And why there’s a good chance you’re not getting enough of this key nutrient.
A simple way to fight inflammation
The new study I mentioned above came about because a group of researchers from Oregon State University noticed that people who have less zinc in their systems seemed to be more prone to age-related immune problems—including chronic inflammation.
As I’ve said many times before, inflammation is the culprit behind virtually every disease you can get—especially as you grow older. Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and on and on.
So the researchers decided to test whether older people have lower zinc levels than younger people, and how declining zinc levels affect immune response.
They found what they call a “double whammy” for older adults:
- About 40 percent of Americans over age 65 have dangerously low zinc levels for two main reasons: older people tend to eat fewer zinc-rich foods, and their bodies don’t seem to use or absorb zinc as well as younger people.
- Zinc deficiency appears to increase inflammatory response in cells, which causes improper immune cell activation.
Both of these things are important, but the last one is a very big deal. No one has ever discovered it before. Basically, what it means is that if you don’t have enough zinc in your body, your immune cells don’t function properly. And that opens the door for inflammation to occur.
This may likely be the culprit behind a condition I’ve told you about before— immunosenescence. Or, as I like to call it, immunity rot. It refers to the gradual erosion of your immune defenses with age. Not surprisingly, inflammation is one of the hallmarks of immunity rot.
And like inflammation, immunity rot can lead to any number of chronic—and often fatal—health issues.
That’s one reason why a recent review of nearly 300 different zinc studies found that this mineral can help keep us healthy literally head to toe. Specifically, the researchers concluded that zinc affects the following:
Brain. One study found that people with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease have lower blood zinc levels. And zinc was found to act as an antidepressant in rats.
Cardiovascular system. Zinc can significantly help regulate blood pressure in our arteries.
Obesity. Researchers have found that obese people have lower blood zinc levels.
Diabetes. Studies have found that zinc is a very important factor in insulin synthesis, storage, and secretion. Of course, this is a key risk factor for diabetes, and other research bears that out. One study found that diabetics with associated diseases like coronary artery disease have low blood zinc levels.
Cancer. Zinc has been found to inhibit tumor growth, especially in the prostate.
Liver. Zinc deficiency may be a factor not only in liver cirrhosis, but also fatty liver disease. As I wrote in the August 13, 2014 Reality Health Check (“The supplement that could reverse the latest Western health crisis”) the non-alcoholic version of this disease is quickly becoming the scourge of Western society—affecting nearly a third of all people.
Wounds. Because it boosts the immune system, research shows zinc can help speed up wound healing.
Pneumonia. Zinc supplementation may lessen the duration of severe pneumonia.
They weren’t mentioned in this review, but studies also show that zinc is a key element in testosterone production. And, of course, zinc’s role in boosting immunity makes it a medicine cabinet must-have during cold season.
Ask your doctor for this important test
Conventional doctors are notorious for ignoring zinc’s importance. So you may have to insist that your healthcare provider give you a test to determine if you’re one of the many people who are zinc deficient.
The test is called an RBC mineral screening, and it measures the levels of zinc, magnesium, potassium, chromium, copper, manganese, and calcium you have in your blood. You’ll want your results to be in the “upper normal” range.
If you find your zinc levels are low, you can boost your consumption in two simple ways.
First of all, make sure you add foods high in zinc to your daily diet. This includes protein-rich foods like red meat, eggs, and shellfish. These diet staples are not no-no’s like we’ve been led to believe. As I wrote in the March issue of Logical Health Alternatives, I hope that one of the big changes in the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines is the debunking of the myth that these foods are dangerous for our health because they contain cholesterol.
And because our bodies don’t store this essential mineral very efficiently, I urge you to take zinc supplements as well. I recommend at least 30 mg of zinc per day.
“Zinc deficiency enhanced inflammatory response by increasing immune cell activation and inducing IL6 promoter demethylation.” Mol Nutr Food Res. 2015 May;59(5):991-9.
“Zinc: The Metal of Life.” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety.
Volume 13, Issue 4, pages 358–376, July 2014.