Zinc has a long hizincstory known as the mineral of the immune system. New research demonstrated that it appears to affect how the immune system responds to inflammation.

A zinc deficiency may play a role in chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes that involve inflammation. I see this deficiency frequently on plasma zinc levels on my patients with autoimmune disease.

When you remove zinc, the cells that control inflammation activate and respond differently in a way that causes the cells to promote more inflammation, said Emily Ho, a professor and lead author of the study.

Zinc is an essential micronutrient required for so many enzyme and body functions. Zinc is essential for growth and physical development, and for the metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates and is vitally important to the immune system. Practically every enzyme reaction in the brain involves zinc and so does the development and function of the central nervous system.

Approximately 12% of people in the U.S. do not consume enough zinc in their diets and it’s about 40% in those over 65 years of age. In older adults it is most likely a combination of eating fewer zinc-rich foods and malabsorption issues.

In the study, researchers examined the relationship between zinc deficiency and inflammation. The results concluded that a zinc deficiency induced an increase inflammatory response in the cells. Researchers were able to show, for the first time, that reducing zinc caused improper immune cell activation and dysregulation of a cytokine IL-6.

Researchers also compared zinc levels in living mice both young and old. The older mice had low zinc levels that corresponded with increased chronic inflammation and decreased IL-6 methylation, which is an epigenetic mechanism that cells use to control gene expression. Decreased IL-6 methylation was also found in human immune cells from elderly people.

These studies suggest a potential relationship between a zinc deficiency and increased inflammation that can occur with age.

A zinc deficiency may be a bigger problem than most people realize especially in older poplulations.

Source: Carmen P. Wong, Nicole A. Rinaldi, Emily Ho. Zinc deficiency enhanced inflammatory response by increasing immune cell activation and inducing IL6 promoter demethylation. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 2015; DOI:10.1002/mnfr.201400761

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