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What are the cellular mechanisms by which zinc enhances our immunity?

Since the 1960s, it has been scientifically proven that zinc deficiency harms the functioning of our immune system. However, it is recent studies that have allowed science to provide us with in-depth information about the multiple aspects by which zinc regulates our immunity.

This article presents the main mechanisms by which zinc exerts essential functions of our immunity.

Health benefits of zinc

Its importance to the immune system

Zinc is a key player in the maintenance and proper functioning of our product immune system. It is involved in the production and activation of immune cells, allowing us to effectively fight infections. In addition, zinc has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which helps protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals and inflammatory reactions.

Role in wound healing

Zinc is also involved in the wound healing process. It participates in the synthesis of collagen, an essential protein for the formation of new skin tissue and the repair of damaged tissue. It is also important for the proliferation and differentiation of skin cells.

Zinc and cellular metalloproteinases

Zinc is a cofactor for mineral proteins. This general term corresponds to all proteins that use a metal ion as a cofactor.

The functions of metalloproteinases are very diverse at the cellular level: they may have functions of enzymatic catalysis, transport, or intercellular communication (signal transduction).

In mammalian cells, trace zinc exists exclusively as a divalent cation (Zn2+).(1).

Zinc, a component of metalloproteinases, is particularly used in the catalysis or structural stabilization of more than 300 enzymes.(2).

Many of our metalloproteinases are found in immune cells. Therefore, a normal zinc level is essential for our immunity.

Zinc and natural killer immune cells

Natural killer cells are cells of our immune system, capable of attacking cells infected with any type of virus in the body, or even cancer cells. In fact, an infected or cancerous cell will show abnormal/unusual proteins on its membrane.

Zinc has the ability to increase the cytotoxic activity of natural killer cells, i.e. their ability to destroy these abnormal cells.(3).

When NK cells kill infected cells, copies of the virus are released inside them. They will be absorbed and destroyed by phagocytosis, by neutrophils and macrophages, these immune cells that migrate to the affected areas.

Zinc, an anti-inflammatory agent

Zinc also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent: it will therefore be essential to regulate our immunity and maintain immune tolerance.

In fact, zinc stimulates the development and proliferation of Treg immune cells (regulatory T lymphocytes) and also attenuates the development of pro-inflammatory Th17 and Th9 cells.(4).

Zinc and our immune cells and T lymphocytes

T lymphocytes are cells of our immune system. When our body is infected with a certain virus, T lymphocytes specific to that virus will be selected. They will then reproduce: this is clonal expansion.

These large groups of T lymphocytes will be able to attack our cells infected with this virus. Knowing that the replication of a single copy of the virus within one of our cells can produce between 10,000 and 100,000 copies, this line of immune defense formed by T lymphocytes is of fundamental importance in the event of a viral infection.

Zinc is an essential trace element at various stages of T lymphocyte formation and development, and is essential for the production of naïve (or not yet activated) T lymphocytes, clonal expansion, and lymphocyte differentiation. The functions of lymphocytes once they are activated(5).

Which zinc to buy?

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Precision nutrition and immunocompetence

Zinc is one of the key micronutrients essential for an individual to be immunocompetent, i.e. able to develop an effective immune response.

Micronutrient deficiency is a global problem today due to the consumption of empty calories from micronutrients and this deficiency can predispose an individual to infections.

Fortunately, immune function can be improved by restoring micronutrient deficiencies to appropriate levels.

This normalization of our micronutrient concentrations increases resistance to infection and also promotes faster recovery in the event of infection.

As much research shows, diet alone may not be enough, and micronutrient supplements may sometimes be necessary(6).

Zinc balance

The human body contains 2 to 3 grams of zinc, 0.1% of which is exchanged daily(7).

In the absence of a major storage organ, our body requires a continuous, i.e. daily, nutritional intake to cover its zinc needs.

We absorb between 15 and 40% of the zinc in our food. After absorption from the intestine, zinc is distributed through the plasma, where it binds to proteins, especially albumin.(8).

Zinc deficiency

Zinc deficiency is very common, and it is estimated that 45% of the population has an intake of less than the recommended daily dose of zinc.(9).

Deficiencies are more common among older adults(10).

They also appear to be very common after disease, due to the increased metabolic demands caused by the pathology.

Point of caution: Vegetarian diets can be particularly low in zinc.

What foods are rich in zinc?

  • Foods rich in zinc are seafood, especially shellfish (oysters 21 mg/100 g, crab 5 mg/100 g and mussels 3 mg/100 g);
  • Followed by offal (cooked calf liver 13mg/100g, cooked chicken liver 4mg/100g), meat (beef 10mg/100g, cooked pork 3mg/100g) and cheese (Comté, Parmesan) 5mg. . /100 grams);
  • Then come nuts and dried fruits (cashews 6 mg/100 g, pecans 5 mg/100 g), whole grain foods (rye bread 10 mg/100 g), and to a lesser extent eggs and dried vegetables (1 mg/100 g). g).

Zinc supplements

Recommended values ​​vary according to nutritional guides. The Food and Nutrition Board/Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for adults is 11 mg per day for men and 8 mg per day for women.

However, apart from reducing dietary zinc intake, some age-related factors such as intestinal absorption, drug interactions, and subcellular processes, among others, can affect zinc activity in the body.

Therefore, zinc supplementation should be evaluated individually, taking into account zinc deficiency, low dietary intake, and associated diseases.

According to studies that have evaluated zinc supplements at various doses and durations, a dose of 20 to 40 mg per day (depending on weight) appears to be a safe and effective dose.(11).

Zinc formbenefitscons
Zinc gluconate– Easy to find
– Generally affordable price
– Less absorbed by the body
Zinc sulphate– Available and inexpensive
– High percentage of zinc
– It may cause gastrointestinal upset
– Less absorbent than other forms
Zinc picolinate– Better absorption by the body
– It may be preferable for people who have problems absorbing minerals
– More expensive than other forms
Zinc bisglycinate– It is absorbed by the body very well
– Less likely to cause digestive disorders
– More expensive than other forms
Advantages and disadvantages of the different forms of zinc available in the form of nutritional supplements.

What are the symptoms of zinc deficiency?

In addition to weakening the effectiveness of our immune system, zinc deficiency can lead to: dermatitis, delayed wound healing, alopecia, as well as various neurological symptoms.

Also note for young parents that zinc deficiency during childhood will result in delayed growth and development(12).

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What are the cellular mechanisms by which zinc enhances our immunity?

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