Zinc: The Mighty Mineral That Fights Inflammation and Keeps Diseases at Bay

Inflammation is the spark that ignites the fire of chronic disease in your body. When inflammation runs out of control, it damages the body and paves the way for serious illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Your immune system can’t function optimally unless it has sufficient zinc to regulate the inflammatory process. Many people, especially older adults, aren’t getting enough of this essential mineral, putting them at greater risk for chronic diseases driven by inflammation.

Zinc: The Essential Element for Immune Health

Zinc deficiency affects more than one in ten people in the U.S. That number jumps to 40 percent for people over the age of 65. With less zinc in their systems, inflammatory processes are more likely to spiral out of control.

Studies led by researcher Emily Ho at the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences have shown that when you remove zinc from the equation, immune cells that control inflammation are altered and become more prone to promoting inflammation.

This paints a bleak picture for older individuals; not only are their immune systems already more vulnerable due to age, but their zinc levels are also frequently lower than they should be.

Why Your Body Needs Zinc to Combat Inflammation

In the lab, the Oregon scientists demonstrated how a lack of zinc speeds up the inflammatory response within cells. Zinc deficiency impairs cells’ ability to regulate the activity of IL-6, an essential protein in controlling inflammation.

Emily Ho also notes that the recommended daily intake of zinc for adults — 11 milligrams for men and 8 milligrams for women — should likely be increased for older adults. Unfortunately, no reliable blood test currently exists to determine if you are getting enough zinc.

Since the body doesn’t store much zinc at all, it’s important to consume zinc-rich foods regularly.

Zinc-Rich Foods to Incorporate Into Your Diet

Meat and shellfish are great sources of zinc. Oysters, in particular, are brimming with the mineral. The problem is that zinc-rich foods aren’t typically on older adults’ menus, and their intestines aren’t as efficient at absorbing the mineral.

In these cases, a supplement might be your best bet to prevent zinc deficiency and keep inflammation at bay. Zinc, like magnesium, is available in several forms. Zinc acetate is effective for reducing cold symptoms, while zinc gluconate is another acceptable option if it’s manufactured through an industrial process.

Zinc orotate is probably the most easily absorbed form, as it more readily passes through cell membranes than other zinc compounds. However, any high-quality zinc supplement will provide much-needed support for your immune system and help quell inflammation.

The Bottom Line: Don’t Skimp on Zinc

The science is clear: If you want a healthy immune system capable of fighting inflammation, you need to get enough zinc. This is especially true for older adults, who are at greater risk for zinc deficiency and chronic diseases driven by inflammation.

To ensure you’re getting enough zinc, regularly eat zinc-rich foods like meat, shellfish, and oysters, or take a high-quality zinc supplement. It’s a simple addition to your daily routine that could have a big impact on your overall health and wellness. Don’t let inflammation gain the upper hand — fuel your immune system with the zinc it needs to keep you feeling your best.