Immunity and Nutrition #1: Zinc

Okay quaranteam, it’s time to suit up and grab your weapons in our fight against the gnarly viruses of the world. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be releasing content to hopefully get you primed with a fully functioning, battle-ready, immune system that will give you the best chance of fighting off illnesses. Of course, there is no guarantee that this will prevent you from getting any nasty ailments but why not get ready for it as best we can? The food you consume is the fuel that your body uses for energy, growth and defence, if you’re putting in dodgy grub then you’re going to get dodgy results. Eating a processed, junk food diet, in terms of getting your immune system ready for a virus, is like going into a war with a rusty spatula as a weapon and your shoelaces tied together. There are thousands of research papers looking into how you can pump up your immunity for general health so what have you got to lose? Let’s dive in.

The science chaps state that 'adequate nutrition is crucial to ensure a good supply of the energy sources, macronutrients and micronutrients required for the development, maintenance and expression of the immune response’ [1]. So essentially if you're eating chip butties on the reg you're immune system is going to be a shambles. Some other science folk mention that 'an individual’s nutritional status can predict the clinical course and outcome of certain infections' [2] which means that if you're low on certain important minerals and vitamins you'll be hit harder by certain illnesses.

So what minerals and vitamins do we need to keep topped up on so we're not almost guaranteeing ourselves a tough time if we do get ill? Well let's start with zinc, this is a bad boy mineral that is essential to our overall health, but did you know it's vital for our immunity? 'Severe zinc deficiency depresses immune function' [3], and even just a moderate amount of deficiency impairs various elements of immune function [4]. T-lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that deal with intruders to our beautiful bods, need zinc to develop, multiply and become activated [5,6]. This could be the reason why 'low zinc status has been associated with increased susceptibility to pneumonia and other infections' [7-10].

Not only is it vital fuel for our defence, but zinc is also a powerful antioxidant [11] and helps maintain one of our primary defensive mechanisms, our skin and mucosal membrane [12].

So to sum up, we can determine how ill we might get by looking at how well we eat since nutrition is one of the best ways of preparing ourselves for an illness such as a virus. Zinc is one of many parts of nutrition that plays a role in all this, we’ll cover some other elements soon. For now, what foods can we munch that contain buckets of the stuff? Check-in tomorrow for top 10 food sources of zinc and how to incorporate them into your meals.

As always, don't take our word for it have a read through the science that we used to write this post:

1)Maggini, S.; Maldonado, P.; Cardim, P.; Fernandez Newball, C.; Sota Latino, E. Vitamins C., D and zinc:

Synergistic roles in immune function and infections. Vitam. Miner. 2017, 6, 167.

2) Alpert, P. The role of vitamins and minerals on the immune system. Home Health Care Manag. Pract. 2017, 29,


3) Shankar AH, Prasad AS. Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection. Am J Clin Nutr 1998;68:447S-63S.

4) Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. Contribution of selected vitamins and trace elements to immune function. Ann Nutr Metab 2007;51:301-23.

5) Beck FW, Prasad AS, Kaplan J, Fitzgerald JT, Brewer GJ. Changes in cytokine production and T cell subpopulations in experimentally induced zinc-deficient humans. Am J Physiol 1997;272:E1002-7.

6) Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zincexternal link disclaimer. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.

7) Bahl R, Bhandari N, Hambidge KM, Bhan MK. Plasma zinc as a predictor of diarrheal and respiratory morbidity in children in an urban slum setting. Am J Clin Nutr 1998;68 (2 Suppl):414S-7S. [PubMed abstract]

8) Brooks WA, Santosham M, Naheed A, Goswami D, Wahed MA, Diener-West M, et al. Effect of weekly zinc supplements on incidence of pneumonia and diarrhoea in children younger than 2 years in an urban, low-income population in Bangladesh: randomised controlled trial. Lancet 2005;366:999-1004. [PubMed abstract]

9) Meydani SN, Barnett JB, Dallal GE, Fine BC, Jacques PF, Leka LS, et al. Serum zinc and pneumonia in nursing home elderly. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;86:1167-73. [PubMed abstract]

10) Black RE. Zinc deficiency, infectious disease and mortality in the developing world. J Nutr 2003;133:1485S-9S. [PubMed abstract]

11) Wintergerst, E.; Maggini, S.; Hornig, D. Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Ann. Nutr. Metab. 2006, 50, 85–94. [CrossRef] [PubMed]

12) Haryanto, B.; Suksmasari, T.; Wintergerst, E.; Maggini, S. Multivitamin supplementation supports immune function and ameliorates conditions triggered by reduced air quality. Vitam. Miner. 2015, 4, 1–15.