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Earlier zinc deficiency was very rare but nowadays, it is considered to be very common in developing countries. In developing countries, zinc deficiency is the 5th leading cause for the loss of healthy years of life. In developed countries, the elderly population is mainly affected by zinc deficiency. Approximately 30% of the elderly population is known to be zinc-deficient. As zinc homeostasis is important in immunological reactions, i.e., the inflammatory and the oxidative stress response, several chronic diseases detected in the elderly are possibly related to zinc deficiency. Also, diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, impaired cognitive function and age-related macular degeneration might be due to zinc deficiency, which can worsen chronic inflammation and trigger oxidative stress.
Zinc deficiency is associated with skin abnormalities, hypogonadism, growth retardation, cognitive impairment and imbalanced immune reactions that increases the risk of allergies and autoimmune diseases. Zinc is essential for the function of the immune system and zinc ions are involved in regulating intracellular signaling pathways in innate and adaptive immune cells.
Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of zinc are documented, but their underlying mechanisms are still not completely clear. There is a connection between altered zinc homeostasis and disease development and thus, zinc supplementation for a malfunctioning immune system is beneficial.
Zinc deficiency can cause severe impairment of immune function, involving the adaptive and the innate immune system. A balanced zinc homeostasis is important for shielding against invading pathogens or protecting the human body against an overreactive immune system triggering autoimmune diseases, allergies or chronic inflammation. Zinc plays a role of a gatekeeper of immune function as the sufficient function of practically all immune cells is highly zinc-dependent.
Source: Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017;9(12):1286. Published 2017 Nov 25. doi:10.3390/nu9121286