Chances are you’ve never even heard of the problem of zinc deficiency. However, nearly two billion people in the world suffer from it. Those are huge numbers and they cause a lot of problem – hair loss, slow growth, poor immune response, diarrhea, poor wound healing, eye and skin lesions and so on. Now a team of scientists from Australia found that dietary zinc also helps body protect itself from Streptococcus pneumoniae – the primary bacterial cause of pneumonia.
Our bodies need zinc for a variety of functions. It helps our cells divide, wounds to heal, noses to smell and tongues to taste. Most importantly, however, zinc is needed for a healthy function of the immune system. This has been known for quite some time, but now scientists from Australia used state-of-the-art imaging techniques to reveal how the immune system uses zinc for protection against Streptococcus pneumoniae, the primary bacterial cause of pneumonia. Researchers used mouse models for this research, comparing infections in mice fed with different levels of zinc.
Scientists found that dietary zinc works line an antibacterial – those mice with lower levels of zinc in their diet succumbed to infection up to three times faster. But scientists already knew that zinc aids the immune system – the big question was how it is used by our bodies to increase our protection. But advanced imaging techniques allowed scientists to figure it out. Dr Bart Eijkelkamp, one of the scientists in the study, explained: “Our work shows that zinc is mobilised to sites of infection where it stresses the invading bacteria and helps specific immune cells kill Streptococcus pneumoniae.” Scientists also found that specific human immune cells employe zinc to enhance their killing of invading bacteria.
And so it is even more clear than ever that you should maintain a healthy level of zinc in your diet. You should eat more lamb, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, beef, chickpeas, lentils, cocoa powder, cashews, kefir, yogurt, ricotta cheese. Vegans typically have lower levels of zinc, because our body breaks down and absorbs zinc from meat more easily. If you choose not to eat meat, make sure to eat a lot of seeds, mushrooms, chickpeas and consider supplements as well.
Streptococcus pneumoniae is the primary bacterial cause of pneumonia. This disease kills nearly 1 million children younger than 5 years old each year. However, zinc simply boosts your immune system, which protects you from all kinds of all kinds of infections, not just pneumonia. If you feel like you may have a zinc deficiency, consult your doctor and improve your diet.
Source: University of Adelaide