This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
The essential mineral that can help combat inflammation and lower the risk of infection and chronic disease is a mineral that many experts fear a quarter of the world’s population is deficient in. But how big of a role does this nutrient play?
A research team from Ohio State University released the result of a study revealing how zinc helps control infections by gently tapping the brakes on the immune response in a way that prevents out-of-control inflammation, which research shows can be damaging and even deadly. Working with human cell cultures, the scientists have demonstrated how a specific protein ushers zinc into key cells that stimulate a critical immune response to fight against infection. The mineral interacts with a cellular process that neutralizes infection and helps balance the normal immune response.
Scientists have presented groundbreaking work that demonstrates for the first time how zinc disables an important pathway to effectively ensure that the immune response does not spiral out of control in response to an infection, and similarly to perpetually elevated levels of inflammation referred to as systemic. Senior study author Dr. Daren Knoell commented, “Without zinc on board to begin with, it could increase vulnerability to infection… our work is focused on what happens once you get an infection… if you are deficient in zinc you are at a disadvantage because your defense system is amplified, and inappropriately so.”
Monocytes, which are white blood cells that provide the first line of defense against an invading pathogen, were extracted from human blood samples to determine what happens when the immune response is launched. Researchers found that when a pathogen is detected, a series of complex responses occur to wake the innate immune response utilizing the nuclear-factor kappa beta pathway (NF-kB). The team showed that once NF-kB is activated, a gene is expressed that allows zinc to be ushered from the bloodstream into the cell where it can bind with proteins that block the activity of the pathogen and halt excess inflammation.
Dr. Knoell concluded, “We believe that our findings help to narrow an important gap that has existed in our understanding of how this relatively simple metal helps us defend ourselves from infection.” Zinc deficiency affects two billion people around the world, representing an estimated 40 percent of the elderly in the U.S., and helps to explain why our aging population is unable to fight the most common infections.
Dietary sources of zinc include beans, nuts, some shellfish, whole grains, fortified cereals and dairy products. Health-minded individuals may want to avoid meat, dairy and grain sources and supplement with 15 to 25 mg per day to fight infection and systemic inflammation.