The Role of Zinc in Immune Health
The chilly winds of winter signal the arrival of cold and flu season, and also the time to strengthen your body’s natural defenses. Amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life, boosting your immune system becomes important, and one key player in this defense lineup is zinc.
Zinc plays an important role in facilitating immune responses and your body's ability to keep the nasty bugs at bay. In the face of seasonal sniffles, join us as we explore the important role of zinc in supporting your immune health, paving the way toward a healthy and resilient tomorrow.
What is Zinc?
Zinc, the second-most abundant trace mineral in your body after iron, can be found in every single cell. Zinc is an essential nutrient that plays a key role in many of your body’s important processes.
Not only does zinc support a healthy immune system but it also is needed for: 1
- DNA synthesis
- Growth and development during pregnancy, infancy, childhood, and adolescence
- Protein synthesis
- Healing damaged tissue
- Your sense of taste
The Role of Zinc in Immune Health
Zinc contributes significantly to the body's immune response in a variety of ways. For example, zinc is often referred to as “the gatekeeper of immune function” as it supports the production and function of immune cells. This includes white blood cells and natural killer cells, both of which are instrumental in supporting immune function.2
Additionally, zinc supports the enzymes that regulate your immune system, ensuring a well-coordinated response to help fend off germs.3
Furthermore, zinc helps maintain the integrity of your skin and mucous membranes, acting as a physical barrier against unwanted and harmful substances. One role that zinc has is in the production and repair of skin cells, ensuring a robust and healthy outer layer. It also contributes to the structural integrity of mucous membranes, which line various organs in our body, including the respiratory and digestive tracts.4
How Much Zinc to Take Daily?
The recommended daily intake of zinc varies based on factors like age, sex, and overall health. For adults, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of zinc is typically around 11 milligrams for males and 8 milligrams for females. Pregnant and lactating women will need slightly higher amounts, generally around 11-13 milligrams per day.5
You may be able to meet your zinc needs through a balanced diet rich in zinc-rich foods. These foods include:
- Whole grains
- Fortified breakfast cereal
It’s important to note that while beans, nuts, and whole grains contain zinc, your body's ability to absorb this mineral from plant-based sources is lower compared to animal foods. This difference is due to the presence of phytates in these plant foods. Phytates, which are compounds found in various grains and legumes, bind to minerals like zinc in the intestines, preventing the absorption of the nutrient.1
As a result, supplementation may be necessary in some cases, as zinc from certain foods may be poorly absorbed by your body.6
If considering zinc supplements, it's best to consult with your healthcare provider to determine the appropriate dosage tailored to meet your individual needs and health conditions.
The Bottom Line
From DNA synthesis to supporting growth and development, zinc plays an important role in many of your body’s processes. This nutrient is also needed to support your immune system and your body’s natural defenses when you need it most.
Zinc enhances your immune system by boosting the production and function of immune cells, supporting the enzymes that regulate immune function, and helping maintain the integrity of the skin and mucous membranes.
Ensuring an adequate intake of zinc through a balanced diet and supplementation if needed, supports your immune system, making it better equipped to protect your health and well-being all year-round and especially during the winter months.
1. Sangeetha, V. J., Dutta, S., Moses, J. A., & Anandharamakrishnan, C. (2022). Zinc nutrition and human health: Overview and implications. eFood, 3, e17. https://doi.org/10.1002/efd2.17
2. Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017 Nov 25;9(12):1286. doi: 10.3390/nu9121286. PMID: 29186856; PMCID: PMC5748737.
3. Hojyo S, Fukada T. Roles of Zinc Signaling in the Immune System. J Immunol Res. 2016;2016:6762343. doi: 10.1155/2016/6762343. Epub 2016 Oct 31. PMID: 27872866; PMCID: PMC5107842.
4. Gammoh NZ, Rink L. Zinc in Infection and Inflammation. Nutrients. 2017; 9(6):624. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9060624
5. Zinc. (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2023, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
6. Mohamad, N.S., Tan, L.L., Ali, N.I.M. et al. Zinc status in public health: exploring emerging research trends through bibliometric analysis of the historical context from 1978 to 2022. Environ Sci Pollut Res 30, 28422–28445 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-023-25257-5