With winter on the way, I've been investigating ways to maximise my immunity. And one word keeps coming up: zinc.
You had me at immunity. Tell me more.
A new study from immunity experts at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the US has shed light on exactly how zinc helps our immune system. The mighty mineral is vital for the development of disease-fighting immune T cells, and it prompts regeneration of the thymus, the immune organ that produces those T cells.
Zinc also keeps your bone marrow healthy and helps your skin, organ cells and white blood cells fight off enemy pathogens. Zinc is basically your body's ministry of defence.
I can see why zinc could be the weapon we need this winter.
Exactly. One German immunologist has pronounced zinc "the gatekeeper of immune function". And a major 2021 clinical review found that healthy people who supplemented with zinc (in lozenges or nasal spray) recovered faster from common colds and respiratory infections.
Our bodies can't manufacture zinc, so we need to outsource it. Diet is the key ...
Wow. But how do I know if I've got enough zinc?
Good question. Serious zinc deficiency shows itself with big red flags, like hair loss, rough skin and poor wound healing. But otherwise, it's pretty hard to know.
Unlike iron, zinc doesn't have a biomarker that lets you measure levels with a blood test. And it's thought that as many as one in three men and one in 10 women in Australia are zinc deficient, which means many of us could be sub-par when it comes to immunity.
Yikes! How do I get me some zinc?
Our bodies can't manufacture zinc, so we need to outsource it.
Diet is the key, and you'll be pleased to know that several tasty foods are zinc-rich: oysters and other shellfish, pumpkin seeds, cashews, chickpeas, milk and cheese, beef, baked beans and dark chocolate. Supplements are a good idea, too.
How much do I need?
The recommended daily intake is 8mg daily for women, 14mg for men (but never more than 40mg). And here's the best bit: zinc also improves your sense of taste and smell.
Now that's my kind of positive feedback loop: you eat oysters and dark chocolate, the zinc in them helps you appreciate them better, so you eat more. Boom.
Immunity has never been tastier.
- Amy Cooper is a journalist who embraces wellness, but has also used kale to garnish a cocktail.