A new study indicates that not only is zinc connected to ensuring that the immune system works properly but that it could also explain why zinc can help lessen the severity of the common cold.
Researchers at Ohio State University revealed this week that zinc may be an integral part of regulating the immune system, BBC News reported Friday (Feb. 8). According to the study, it is the presence of zinc that stops the immune system from spiraling out of control in times of severe infection.
The study also noted that this might explain also why the taking of zinc supplements at the onset of a cold seem to lessen its severity and duration.
The research is a follow-up to former studies that indicated that a deficiency in zinc could lead to increased inflammation.
A problem occurs with the immune system in that after an organ or area of the body becomes infected, the body produces certain immune cells in abundance to fight the infection. Without enough zinc, which works in conjunction with a protein (designated NF-kB) to slow or stop the fastest responding immune cells, too many of the immune cells are produced, which can have fatal consequences.
However, scientists are still at a loss to figure out just how zinc helps fight infection.
According to study leader Dr Daren Knoell, the immune system works best when it is in balance, "where more is not always better."
He explained, "We want a robust inflammatory response, which is part of our natural programming to defend us against a bug. But if that is unchecked, and there is too much inflammation, then it not only attacks the pathogen but can also cause much more collateral damage."
This is what often happens with sepsis, where an individual's immune system responds to severe infection, producing a runaway immune response. Such a response can at times be lethal.
As for zinc's helping with the common cold, Knoell said, "Whether this is because of improved balance in immune function, similar to what we report with sepsis, remains to be proven but perhaps requires further study."
Besides helping the immune system regulate itself, zinc is an important mineral necessary to many of the body's daily functions. According to the Ohio State Extension Fact Sheet, zinc is important in the formation of protein in the body, thereby assisting in blood formation, wound healing, and general growth and maintenance of all tissues. Zinc also plays an integral part in the body's insulin manufacture and distribution process. As it is part of the make-up of many of the body's enzymes, the mineral helps the metabolic process as well.
In addition to the aforementioned zinc dietary supplements, which can be procured at just about any grocery store or nutrition center, there are plenty of foods that are high in zinc that could possibly help in keeping one's immune system in balance, not to mention perhaps stave off or foreshorten a cold. Here are the five best zinc-rich foods (although it is suggested that those with a zinc deficiency get their zinc from animal proteins instead of plant because the body assimilates it better), a list provided by Healthaliciousness.com.
1. Oysters. Depending on the type of oysters can provide between 16 and 182 mg of zinc per a 100 mg serving. The Steamed Wild Eastern Oyster appears to be the most zinc-rich. Just six of them provide 76 mg of the mineral.
2. Toasted Wheat Germ. Used as a salad ingredient or on rice or with steamed vegetables, toasted wheat germ provides 17 mg of zinc per 100 mg serving. To put it in a practical perspective, each teaspoon of toasted wheat germ contains about 1 mg of zinc.
3. Veal liver. Although the liver of any animal is packed with zinc, veal liver contains the most: 12 mg per 100 mg serving.
4. Low fat roast beef. Low fat beef shoulder, shank, and chuck all contain about 10mg of zinc per 100g serving or about 18 mg per pound.
5. Roasted pumpkin and squash seeds. These seeds contain about 10mg of zinc per 100g serving or 6.6mg per cup.
The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of zinc in the diet ranges from 2-3 milligrams daily (for babies and infants) to as much as 11 milligrams in adults over 50.
(photo credit: Alpha, Creative Commons)
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