Zinc is an essential mineral that plays many roles in our body.
But it also plays a key role in keeping the immune system healthy. Making consuming enough zinc-rich foods or a zinc supplement important during cold and flu season.
While zinc may not help prevent an infection directly, it may be able to assist with reducing severity and duration of seasonal illnesses.
What is Zinc
Zinc is an essential mineral that’s vital for keeping your body healthy. Because it is ‘essential,’ the body cannot produce it. This means you must consume zinc every day in the diet or from dietary supplements.
Zinc-rich foods include meats, shellfish, legumes, dairy, eggs, whole grains, some vegetables (potatoes and kale), and seeds and nuts (1). However, high-quality supplements are an option as your diet maybe low in zinc-containing foods.
It is an important component in several body functions. Including supporting a healthy immune system, keeping bones strong, aiding in healing, helps in iron absorption, functioning as an antioxidant, and promoting healthy aging.
Ways Zinc Strengthens Your Immune System
Zinc is involved in many parts of the immune system.
Most important being – strengthening white blood cells, acting as an antioxidant, and improving tissue formation and may help in healing.
- Boosts the immune system
Zinc is involved in many parts of the immune system and plays a key role in keeping your immune response strong.
It is part of immune cell development and function. Zinc is necessary for immune cell development – specifically, white blood cells like lymphocytes and phagocytes (2). These cells are essential when it comes to helping protect the body against pathogens that cause infections and illnesses.
- Aids wound healing and tissue repair
Zinc is essential for cell growth, making it a key component in keeping skin tissue strengthening. Zinc is also important for wound healing and repair. And as the body’s first line of defense, healthy skin (and mucus membranes) – is an essential barrier for keeping out harmful bacteria.
Along with vitamin C, zinc plays an important role in the production of collagen. Collagen is a key protein for skin building skin tissue (2).
- Functions as an antioxidant
Zinc is also an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent.
This mineral protects white blood cells from damage by free radical molecules, but also decreases oxidative stress. Oxidative stress contributes to chronic inflammation, which can contribute to the development of several age-related health issues (3). It also reduces response rate of the immune system, which could leave you more susceptible to seasonal and external challenges.
Zinc being an antioxidant is also beneficial to the skin, keeping cell tissues protected from harmful outside toxicants (2).
Will Zinc Help You this Winter Season?
Zinc is commonly added to immune wellness supplements and medicines – even lozenges – that have immune boosting qualities. Because zinc is essential for immune function.
While there is little evidence that zinc can prevent seasonal challenges during the winter months, it may reduce severity and duration if you happen to contract an illness (4). Additionally, studies have found taking a zinc supplement may also help protect against respiratory challenges (4).
Consuming enough zinc everyday may help you through the winter season by improving immune response and promoting immune cell development. Both are key factors in your body’s ability to fend off harmful pathogens.
Other Benefits of Zinc
Beyond immune system strength, zinc provides the body several other benefits. Most important being its benefit to improving learning capacity and memory via neuron function in the hippocampus – the section of the brain responsible for long-term and spatial memory (2).
Zinc’s contribution to brain health is also essential for its contribution to healthy aging. Healthy aging is also essential, not only for staving off age-related health issues, but also for preventing potentially more severe health concerns.
Consuming zinc in recommended daily amount throughout the lifetime may help stave off several issues related to aging. Including a weakened immune system.
Daily requirement of Zinc
The recommended daily amount (DRI) of zinc is 11mg for adult men and 8 mg for adult women (2). Requirements increase for certain groups, including pregnant women (11mg) and breastfeeding women (12mg).
Avoid Zinc Deficiency During the Winter Season
Low intake of Zinc can lead to a deficiency. A deficiency of zinc is especially important during winter months, when your immune system is challenged.
Being zinc deficient can result in several complications. Including (2):
- Impaired growth and development
- Skin rashes
- Weakened immune system
- Slow wound healing
As you can see, a number of zinc deficiency symptoms are associated with a poor immune response.
Opposite of deficiency, it’s also important to avoid over-consuming zinc – to prevent toxicity. Though toxicity is rare, it’s important to understand that the risks and ensure you are getting an adequate amount of zinc every day.
And just like deficiency, too much zinc can cause health complications and negative side effects. Indicators that you may be consuming (via diet or supplement) too much zinc can include (2):
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Headache and cramps
- Reduced immune function
Not only is zinc deficiency linked to poor immune response, but toxicity is as well.
How to Boost Your Immunity with Zinc this Winter Season
While zinc may not directly reduce your risk of coming into contact with a virus, it may help minimize your illness this season.
Make sure you are consuming plenty vitamin zinc-rich foods to keep your immune system strong. Or consume a high-quality supplement for the most benefit – even beyond immunity.
Avoid zinc deficiencies and toxicity by consuming the recommended daily amounts. This will prevent weakened immune system and function, slow wound healing, and risk for respiratory infections (4). Consult with a healthcare professional to discuss if you are consuming an adequate amount of zinc through your daily diet.
Buried Treasure Featured Products with Zinc for Immune Support
Author: Allison Lansman, RDN, LD
Allison Lansman is a Registered Dietitian (RD), freelance nutrition and health writer, and wellness blogger. She is the owner/operator of The Freelance RD writing service and blog. Her business provides mainly writing services, but also product development, educational services and brand partnerships.
As an RD, Allison embraces a modern approach to nutrition and wellness. She believes we benefit most from building positive, balanced connections between mind, body, food, and environment. And she is passionate about sharing that philosophy through wellness communication and writing.
Her educational background is through Iowa State University, where she completed both her undergraduate degree and dietetics internship. She is currently studying towards an Masters in Public Health.