Within your body, a war is waged when viruses or bacteria threaten to make you sick.
While you may not be able to see this war play out, you can certainly know when your body loses, or has ineffectively fought, that battle.
This war against infection is fought within your immune system.
And, believe it or not, a single mineral derived from the foods you eat (or supplements you take) appears to be responsible for the effectiveness of both the battle plan and the combative army of fighters.
What mineral is that? Zinc.
So then, how can this nutrient aid in your body’s ability to fight infection?
What is Zinc?
Zinc is a mineral that is essential for metabolizing nutrients, growing and repairing tissues within the body, and sustaining a healthy immune system.
Your body is unable to store excess zinc, so incorporating sources of it regularly into your diet is necessary.
The best dietary sources of zinc include:
- Red meat
- Seeds (squash, pumpkin, sesame)
- Dark chocolate
- Dairy (milk and cheese)
When dietary sources are insufficient, zinc levels are often boosted through supplementation.
Perhaps you’ve heard of zinc being supplemented particularly during the months of the year that we often dub as “sick season.”
Maybe you’ve even taken zinc in response to, or to protect yourself from, getting a cold?
So then, how can zinc actually help your body when it comes to illness?
Zinc Balances Immune Responses
A pathogen is a virus or bacteria that can invade your body and make you sick.
When a pathogen enters your body, your immune system is alerted and thus deploys fighters called T-cells to find the cells that have been invaded by these pathogens.
The T-cells find the compromised cells and destroy them. Afterwards, they duplicate themselves, essentially making an army to destroy all infected cells.
This is a balanced process that keeps a virus or illness from surviving in your body.
And, while that already sounds kind of technical, the process is actually a bit more complicated than that.
That’s where zinc comes in…
When the intruder (the pathogen) is recognized by your body, zinc begins the T-cell activation process mentioned above.
But, before those T-cells jump into action, a special protein goes to work.
This protein is responsible for producing ZIP8, which carries zinc to the cell’s wall. It can then carry the zinc through the bloodstream into the T-cell.
Once inside, zinc latches on to a different protein which keeps the entire process of the T-cell army invasion in check, halting it before it gets out of hand.
But wait, wouldn’t it be better to just let the army continue to multiply and go full-blown, crazy, Nazi Blitzkrieg on the infection that’s trying to bring you down?
Balance Is Key
While it’s true that we definitely want a strong immune response to the viruses and bacteria that find their way into our bodies, balance is key.
So, instead of a blitzkrieg type attack, this process works more like an American special forces targeted operation.
Why? Because too much of a response from your immune system can actually have negative effects.
Take allergies for example. When someone is overcome with allergy symptoms, this is really the result of an overreaction on the part of the immune system.
Someone who is adversely affected by allergens like mold, dust, pet dander, or grass is experiencing an overactive immune response to that allergen.
To quell the resulting symptoms (itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, etc), some people take supplements or medicines which actually work to mitigate or block this exaggerated response.
And, the same is true in the case of a cold or other viral infection.
The reason you experience the symptoms that plague you when you have a cold is due to an overactive response from your immune system.
This overreaction described above is referred to as an inflammatory response. Too much inflammation can both damage cells and the body as a whole.
So, the role of zinc in immune function is like the voice of reason. It aids in proper function, but also brings balance and keeps things from spiraling out of control.
So, what happens within the immune system if a person is lacking adequate levels of zinc?
How Do Zinc Deficiencies Affect Immune Responses?
Zinc is not just responsible for aiding your immune system.
In fact, due to its demands elsewhere in the body, only approximately 10% of zinc is readily accessible to help maintain balance in the process of fighting infection.
When an individual lacks appropriate levels of zinc, they may experience:
- stunted growth
- loss of appetite
- hair loss
- skin and eye lesions
In relation to the immune system, zinc deficiencies can lead to:
- delayed healing of wounds
- susceptibility to illness and concurrent illnesses
- increased risk of pneumonia
- chronic inflammation (It is important to note that chronic inflammatory responses can lead to serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, many types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.)
Deficient zinc levels mean that the T-cells responsible for destroying cells infected by invading pathogens can not properly function.
So, at the time of infection, if zinc levels are low, uncontrolled inflammation occurs because your body’s defense system is disproportionately heightened.
Bottom line, when zinc deficiencies are prevalent, your immune system becomes unbalanced and thus excess inflammation is triggered.
After much study surrounding the processes described here, scientists hypothesize that zinc is specifically responsible for allowing the invading virus or bacteria to be eliminated without turning the process into an inflammatory response.
When zinc deficiencies are suspected, boost your diet with foods rich in zinc or incorporate supplementation to:
- reduce the duration of illness (namely the common cold).
- protect against respiratory tract infections
- boost immune function.
Zinc isn’t the only well researched way to boost your immune system
We’ve identified 21 similar, simple ways to boost your immune system… that also help you lose weight.
We put them all in a free report you can download here: