Zinc and Your Immune System

Immunity and fighting illness is on the top of everyone’s mind right now. While we listen each day for health updates and follow COVID-19 prevention recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), let’s not forget about the simple, common-sense things we can all do at home to support our own immune system.

Food as Medicine

A healthy gut contributes to a healthy immune system. So think – food first! Eating a rainbow of fruit and vegetables means you get a variety of antioxidants that not only fight inflammation but support immunity. Also focus on getting wholesome, high fiber foods – many of which also contain prebiotics – which feed our healthy gut bacteria. Consider having a serving of a fermented food or beverage each day for a natural dose of probiotics. Finally, don’t forget about the importance drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated!

The Importance of Rest

Getting adequate sleep is also key for health and wellness. The general recommendation is 7-9 hours each night.

Stay active. Exercise is also known to support a healthy immune system. If you’re not comfortable heading to a gym or workout class right now, consider taking your activity outdoors or even finding space in your home to sweat it out! (TIP: Pinterest is one of my favorite places to search for quick in-home workouts!)

Immunity-Boosting Zinc 

You may have seen the plethora of cold and flu products containing zinc for immune support. But does it work? Zinc is an antioxidant known to support immune function and to help protect us from infection. In addition, it plays an important role in enzyme activity for our body’s normal function and development, is critical for wound healing, and is part of DNA protection and repair.

Research shows that zinc lozenges or syrup appear to be beneficial in treating the common cold when taken within 24 hours of symptom onset (Zinc for the common cold). While studies have not shown supplemental zinc to be beneficial in preventing illness, it appears to aid in decreasing the duration of symptoms (Efficacy of zinc against common cold viruses: an overview).

It’s important to note, however, that you do not need a supplement to ensure you get enough zinc. Including foods with zinc is a natural way to ensure you are regularly supporting your immune system even when you are not thinking about colds, the flu, or other illnesses.

Oysters contain the highest amount of zinc of any food. Other shellfish like crab and lobster are also good sources, as are yogurt and cow’s milk.

If you’re vegan or entirely plant-based several nuts and seeds are good sources of zinc; reach for pumpkin, hemp and sesame seeds, as well as cashews and almonds. Chickpeas, lentils and green peas also provide a boost of zinc. Finally, many breakfast cereals are fortified with zinc and choosing a high fiber cereal means you’re getting an added gut health boost.

It is worth noting that the bioavailability of zinc in plant foods is not as high as in animal foods. Phytates in plant foods bind to zinc decreasing its absorption. To increase bioavailability, soak beans, grains, raw nuts and seeds for several hours or even long enough for them to sprout. Soaking these foods for 24 hours before cooking can reduce phytate content by up to 50%, while sprouting may reduce phytate content by as much as 75%.

Overall, there are simple tasks we can do each and every day to support our overall wellness and immunity. Eat healthy food, drink plenty of water, move daily and get your sleep!

TIP: For a make-at-home immune boosting broth, check out my blog: Boost Your Immune System with Broth.

Erin Pellegrin RD, LDN

Sources:

  1. Zinc – National Institute of Health
  2. Zinc – Natural Medicines
  3. Zinc for the common cold – PubMed
  4. Efficacy of zinc against common cold: an overview – PubMed
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