Zinc deficiency may yield abundance of disease

New research links zinc to how the immune system responds to inflammation, especially in older people.

Swell news about zinc: A deficiency of the mineral may affect how the immune system responds to stimulation, especially to inflammation, according to new research. That means it may be connected with inflammation-related diseases like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Oregon State University researchers investigated the relationship between zinc deficiency and inflammation. They found that “when you take away zinc, the cells that control inflammation appear to activate and respond differently; this causes the cells to promote more inflammation,” said lead author Emily Ho, a professor and director of OSU's Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods, Nutrition and Preventive Health, in a university release. The research was published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.

The researchers were able to show, for the first time, that reducing zinc kicked off improper immune cell activation and impaired the function of a protein called cytokine IL-6 that affects inflammation in a cell. Researchers also compared zinc levels in young and old mice. Older mice had low zinc levels that corresponded with increased chronic inflammation.

Together, the research suggests a potential link between zinc deficiency and increased inflammation that can occur with age, Ho said. “We think zinc deficiency is probably a bigger problem than most people realize,” she said. “Preventing that deficiency is important.”

In other zinc news, in a recent meta-analysis, University of Helsinki scientists found that high dose zinc acetate lozenges shortened the duration of cold symptoms.

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