Integrative Nutrition Blog

Insights on Autoimmune Health and Inflammatory Conditions

Micronutrient Spotlight: Zinc

Jun 28, 2023 | Inflammation & Autoimmune Disease

Zinc is the last micronutrient of importance I’ll be talking about this month. From our experience with COVID, we all know how important zinc is in supporting the immune system. This mineral also plays a key role in regulating our immune function and in some cases, zinc status may correlate to disease activity. Today I’ll be discussing the functions of zinc, the role it plays in autoimmune disease, and how to make sure you are getting enough zinc from your diet.

What is Zinc?

Zinc is a trace mineral that is essential to the human body and must be ingested through the food we eat. Although we don’t need a lot of this mineral, it plays a very important role in our body. Zinc is what is known as a co-factor for enzymes, meaning it’s required for enzymes (which are proteins) to activate chemical reactions. There are over 200 enzymes in our body that rely on zinc to work properly. These reactions are needed for energy metabolism and DNA, RNA and protein synthesis.
Zinc is also important for healing damaged tissues and supports our immune system. This mineral helps cells grow, so it’s really important to eat zinc during periods of growth in our bodies. Zinc is also involved with our sense of smell and taste.


Zinc & Autoimmune Diseases

As I already mentioned, zinc is important for immune system functioning. However, what’s really interesting is that when there is a zinc deficiency in the body, the immune cells are extremely sensitive and are very affected with a drop in this  mineral.
In a 2018 meta-analysis that looked at zinc and autoimmunity, the one thing researchers found was there was significantly lower serum and plasma zinc in autoimmune patients as compared to healthy controls. This drop in zinc may be caused by an absorption issue in the digestive tract, or the increased need for zinc with an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines that we see in most autoimmune diseases.
Zinc is also a very powerful antioxidant, meaning that it captures free radicals that damage our cells. If you don’t have enough zinc to stop those free radicals, you are opening up your body to an increased chance of cellular damage, which triggers an inflammatory reaction.
What is also really interesting about zinc is it affects T cells. T cells play a very important role in immune system regulation. These cells are highly dependent on zinc and rely on zinc for proper regulation. In a study on mice with MS, researchers found that zinc supplementation increased T-regulatory cells (which help reduce inflammation) and lowered Th17 cells (which increase inflammation).

Sources of Zinc

The daily requirement for zinc is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women. Depending on your autoimmune disease status, you may need more. Please consult with your qualified health professional before starting any supplementation as zinc does compete with copper, so you want to make sure you are not overdoing zinc and not getting any copper.
Here are some of the best food sources for zinc:

  • Red meat: a 3.5 ounce serving of red meat contains 4.79 mg of zinc, or almost half of your zinc requirement
  • Shellfish: oysters have the highest amounts of zinc of any type of shellfish. Six oysters provides 33 mg of zinc. King crab is also a great source of zinc. Small shellfish like shrimp and mussels are good sources as well.
  • Beans: if you prefer plant-based protein, beans and legumes are good sources of zinc. 3.5 oz of lentils contain 1.3 mg of zinc, or around 15% of the daily amount for women.
  • Seeds: Some seeds are great sources of zinc. These include hemp, pumpkin and sesame seeds.
  • Nuts: Cashews are the best option for zinc in terms of nuts, which contain 1.6 mg per 1 oz serving.
  • Dark chocolate: Yes! Dark chocolate is actually a good source of zinc. 3.5 oz of dark chocolate has 3.31 mg of zinc.

Zinc is one of those key nutrients to really watch out for when you are managing an autoimmune disease. If you would like more help with this, please contact me to schedule a free call. I love helping people by using food and lifestyle to overcome chronic diseases such as autoimmunity. For more information about autoimmune diseases and nutrition, be sure to follow me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

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