Zinc: The Immune System Nutrient

Zinc is thought by many nutritionists to be the most important mineral supplement because it is commonly deficient in the diet. Zinc is the nutrient that aids the immune system.

Essential to human growth, zinc is key to proper T cell and natural killer cell function and proper lymphocyte activity; it may be directly involved in antibody production to help you fight infection. Zinc is essential to many enzyme systems and for normal functioning of the immune system.

Key functions of zinc:

  • Functions in a multitude of enzymes — for alcohol and amino acid metabolism, protein digestion, and energy production, as well as in immune function and in the body’s fight against damaging free radicals.

  • Used by men to support good prostate and reproductive health.

  • Particularly important for teenagers during sexual development.

  • Used to support optimum immune function. Zinc lozenges are famous, with some good clinical studies to their credit, for helping your immune system fight off colds and sore throats and recover from injury, illness, or surgery.

  • May protect you against the toxic effects of chemical exposures.

Adequate amounts of zinc are not always easy to get from your foods. This nutrient is as important for good plant health as it is for human health. Zinc, like most other minerals, needs to be abundant in healthy soil for plants to absorb it and for your food to supply you with an ample amount.

Zinc is found in oysters (which have the highest zinc content by far), shellfish, meats, eggs, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Pumpkin and squash seeds are especially good sources.

Normal supplementation is about 15–30 mg daily in men and 10–20 mg in women; you can use more zinc temporarily, to correct deficiency. Remember to take copper (2–3 mg) and manganese (5–10 mg), if you increase your zinc intake.

Zinc can cause toxic reactions in your body, such as abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, when you take too much. Deficiency is somewhat common and can cause more infections and a weakened immune function, delayed sexual development in boys and girls, and prostate problems in men.

Other common symptoms of zinc deficiency include loss of appetite, impaired senses of smell and taste, growth retardation, delayed wound healing, depression, impaired concentration, nervousness, night blindness, and slowed nail and hair growth.

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