Ensure Adequate Zinc for Flu-Fighting Immunity

By: Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist

Scientists at the University of Florida1 have shown that zinc not only supports healthy immune function, but increases activation of the T cells responsible for destroying viruses and bacteria.  Healthy humans taking 15 mg of zinc per day had significantly improved T cell function, meaning they had a higher ability to ward off infections they could have been exposed to.  This is an important point to keep in mind, especially with an unpredictable flu season ahead.

Zinc ions are moved in and out of cells through a system of zinc transporter proteins, of which there are many.  T cells utilize a specific transporter called ZIP8.  In the experiment blood was taken from the zinc supplementing participants and compared to a control group not taking zinc supplements.  Upon infectious challenge the immune response of blood cells taken from zinc supplemented individuals was far superior to controls – based on more efficient T cell activation due to ZIP8 activation (brining zinc into the immune cells and helping them work better).

In addition to this new finding study co-author Robert Cousins, Ph.D. commented that “It has been shown that zinc supplementation significantly reduces the duration and severity of childhood diarrhea, lower respiratory infections, and incidence of malaria in zinc-deficient children….Age-related declines in immune function have also been related to zinc deficiency in the elderly.”

John Wherry, Ph.D., Deputy Editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology commented that “studies like this help shed light on how zinc may enhance the ability of our immune systems to fight off foreign invaders.”

There are a number of basic nutrients that no person should be without during the flu season.  These include enough B vitamins for general energy production, vitamin D, vitamin C, bioflavonoids like quercetin, and zinc.  Maintaining optimal digestive health is another key topic for basic immune competence.  A well nourished individual clearly has an immune system advantage.

Referenced Studies:
  1. ^ Zinc and Immunity  Journal of Leukocyte Biology.  Tolunay B. Aydemir, Juan P. Liuzzi, Steve McClellan, and Robert J. Cousins.

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