zinc and autoimmune diseaseZinc is known as the mineral of the immune system. It has been known to play an essential role with the immune system from the barrier of our skin to mediating immunity through natural killer cells.

Older adults are more prone to infection due to a weakened secondary to aging. Low levels of zinc reduce immunity. According to a new article published two weeks ago in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers wanted to see the effect of supplementation with 30 mg zinc daily for 3 months on serum zinc levels in older adults in nursing homes who were zinc deficient.

According to previously research, 30% of nursing home residents have low serum zinc levels and those with low serum zinc levels had a significantly higher incidence of pneumonia and morbidity as a result. This study demonstrated that serum zinc levels can be increased in older adults with zinc supplementation which is associated with an increase in T-cell numbers and function. These results indicate the significance of adequate zinc consumption by older adults and its impact on reducing the incidence of morbidity from infection.

This study was a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of adults age 65 or older from Boston area nursing homes. The participants had initial serum zinc levels assessed. The results ranged from moderate to very deficient.

In addition to serum zinc concentrations, the researchers found that zinc supplementation improved T-cell function. Also, the researchers saw a positive correlation between serum zinc levels and the number and function of T-cells. This effect of zinc was attributed to increasing the number of T-cells rather than enhancing the function of each T-cell.

At the end of three months, researchers established that zinc supplementation increased serum zinc levels in individuals with low zinc levels and increased the number and effectiveness of T-cells.

Zinc is found in a wide variety of foods, however, some individuals are more likely to have trouble getting enough zinc such as those with digestive disorders and vegetarians. Researchers suspect that older adults do not absorb or use zinc as efficiently as others.

By Michael Jurgelewicz, DC, DACBN, DCBCN

Source: J. B. Barnett, M. C. Dao, D. H. Hamer, R. Kandel, G. Brandeis, D. Wu, G. E. Dallal, P. F. Jacques, R. Schreiber, E. Kong, S. N. Meydani. Effect of zinc supplementation on serum zinc concentration and T cell proliferation in nursing home elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2016; DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.115.115188

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