Written by Brenton Wight, Health Researcher
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Updated 17th January 2021
Why we Need Zinc
Zinc is an essential trace mineral, found in almost every cell in the body and is involved in over 200 enzymes, and in more enzymatic reactions than any other mineral. Apart from enzymes, many body hormones such as insulin, growth hormone and sex hormones all need zinc to function correctly.
Most importantly: Zinc, like Vitamn D3, also helps regulate overactive immune responses (autoimmune conditions) that cause inflammation.
Zinc deficiency is common.
Most at risk are children, seniors, vegetarians, vegans, those with kidney disorders or chronic diarrhea.
Deficiency reduces immunity, affecting our natural virus-fighting system.
Zinc for Immune Function
Zinc is vital for several immune system functions, including Innate immunity, white blood cell function, and the Thymus gland function.
Innate immunity is the body’s natural defense mechanism, separate from the immune system.
Zinc, with the help of Vitamin A, Vitamin D3, Selenium and other nutrients, aids in our barriers to infection, but deficiency of these other nutrients can reduce the benefits of zinc.
Zinc is referred to as the gatekeeper of immune function.
Zinc, in the ionic form, is one of our best weapons to defeat invading viruses.
Viruses infect cells with the use of replicase, an enzyme, but zinc can block the replicase enzyme, blocking virus replication. However, zinc also needs an open ionophore, a cell membrane portal (door) that allows ions to enter cells. Many natural compounds act as zinc ionophores, such as flavonoids like Quercetin and Green Tea Extract (EGCG).
Zinc and the Thymus
Zinc Chelate promotes a healthy immune system via the thymus, the major gland of our immune system. It sits below the thyroid and above the heart, and thymus health affects immune health.
The thymus produces T lymphocytes, white blood cells responsible for cell-mediated immunity (i.e. immune systems unaffected by antibodies). Cell-mediated immunity is extremely important for mold-like bacteria, yeast (including Candida albicans), fungi, parasites, and viruses such as Herpes simplex, Epstein-Barr, and viruses that cause hepatitis. Zinc deficiency affects immunity, also affecting allergies, autoimmune conditions, and inflammation. Studies show that zinc supplementation can reverse immunity issues, even in elderly subjects.
The thymus also needs zinc to release several hormones that improve white blood cell function, imperative for immunity.
Zinc and White Blood Cells
Apart from the T cells involved in cell-mediated immunity, monocytes (different white blood cells, and the body’s “garbage collectors”) require zinc. Monocytes located in the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes are called macrophages. Monocytes and macrophages engulf foreign particles including bacteria, viruses, and cellular debris and destroy them, at the same time sending information messages about the invaders to other immune cells.
The NK cells (Natural Killer cells) are yet another type of white blood cells, receiving their name because they destroy cells that have become cancerous or infected with viruses. Zinc is required in the NK cell signaling function. Without enough zinc, an active viral infection could be disastrous instead of a healthy recovery.
Adults, including during pregnancy or lactation: 15 mg to 20 mg.
To help fight an infection: 30 mg to 45 mg (men), 20 mg to 30 mg (women).
To boost zinc levels temporarily: Zinc lozengers 15mg to 20 mg dissolved in the mouth every 2 waking hours for up to 7 days.
Children: 5 to 10 mg
Note: High intake of zinc (and magnesium) can block absorption of copper, so zinc supplements containing a small amount of copper should be considered.
Forms of Zinc
There are many forms of zinc supplements.
Many studies have used a common zinc sulfate, which is poorly absorbed. Better forms are:
– Zinc bisglycinate
– Zinc picolinate
– Zinc acetate
– Zinc citrate
– Zinc monomethionine
– Zinc oxide
Zinc Lozengers are mostly made with zinc acetate or gluconate.
I recommend a chelated (ionic) form of zinc bisglycinate such as Zinc Chelate as the body can more readily use supplements already in an ionic form without having to break them down. Also frees up glycine, an amino acid required for production of glutathione, the body’s “master antioxidant”.
Zinc Side Effects
– Gastrointestinal upset and nausea if taken on an empty stomach (mainly zinc sulfate which is not recommended)
– Anemia, lower HDL-cholesterol levels, depressed immune function after prolonged intake over 150 mg daily, due to reduced copper absorption.
– Decreased absorption of tetracycline and ciprofloxacin antibiotics. Take zinc supplements at least 2 hours before or after taking these antibiotics.
– Loss of zinc or poor zinc absorption if used with aspirin; AZT (azidothymidine); captopril; enalapril; estrogens (oral contraceptives and Premarin®); penicillamine; and diuretics (thiazide class). Supplementation often required to maintain zinc levels in those taking these drugs.
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- Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017 Nov 25;9(12). pii: E1286
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- Barnett JB, Dao MC, Hamer DH, et al. Effect of zinc supplementation on serum zinc concentration and T cell proliferation in nursing home elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Mar;103(3):942-51
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- Dabbagh-Bazarbachi H, et al. Zinc ionophore activity of quercetin and epigallocatechin-gallate: from Hepa 1-6 cells to a liposome model. J Agric Food Chem. 2014 Aug 13;62(32):8085-93