- More than half of older adults in the US have a zinc deficiency.
- Low levels of zinc can weaken your immune system.
- Having healthy levels of zinc, along with eating a diet rich in plant foods, can promote a long life.
Zinc deficiency can harm your immune system. Our immune system tends to weaken with age, leading to serious health problems. Maintaining a healthy immune system by eating foods rich in phytochemicals and essential nutrients is crucial to limit the weakening of the immune system.
Micronutrients support proper immune function, while phytochemicals in colorful plant foods have antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties.
Maintaining Zinc Levels as We Age
A weakened immunity increases the risk of pneumonia, influenza, autoimmune diseases, and even cancers. According to several studies, the elderly are at high risk for zinc deficiency. The reason may be, in part, due to the decreased absorption efficiency as we age.
Research found that for older people, having an adequate zinc level may be essential for preventing pneumonia. A study of patients in nursing homes for elderlies found that having a normal serum zinc status led to lower pneumonia cases.
Other studies in older people taking zinc supplements suggest that maintaining zinc levels boosts improve system function. A 2007 study found adults ages 55 to 87 with lower plasma zinc and higher oxidative stress and inflammatory markers than younger adults had a lower rate of respiratory infections and markers of inflammation and oxidative stress after taking zinc supplements for 12 months, compared to the placebo group.
An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study published in 2016 also found that zinc-deficient nursing home residents who took zinc supplements for three months had increased serum zinc and T cell numbers compared to the placebo group.
For those with diets that don’t support immune function, immunity starts to decline at around 60 to 65 years old. But even if you eat a proper diet, you may still need to supplement with zinc. Zinc levels are almost 50 percent higher for people following a completely plant-based diet. Whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, contain phytate, an antioxidant compound that prevents the absorption of zinc and other minerals. Other minerals, like iron and calcium, also hinder zinc absorption. Copper also interferes with the binding of zinc to proteins inside the body’s cells.
How Zinc Boosts Immunity
Decreasing zinc levels could be a major factor in the immune function decline in aging people. Zinc helps with DNA synthesis and cell proliferation, making immune cells, which are highly proliferating, dependent on zinc supply. Zinc deficiency impairs the growth or function of immune cells.
Besides its role in immune function, zinc also works to:
- reduce oxidative stress
- stabilize proteins
- regulate the expression of several genes
- control hundreds of chemical reactions in the body
- help with neurotransmitter release in the brain and packaging and secretion of insulin
Maintaining your zinc levels could promote better health and longevity by boosting your immune function. Along with a plant-rich diet, zinc may slow the aging process and reduce your risk for pneumonia and other fatal infections.
Source: Very Well Health