Are you getting enough zinc in your diet? If you’re a member of Corvallis’ elderly population, you may want to pay close attention to your intake of this essential mineral—a new study by scientists at Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute (LPI) and the College of Public Health and Human Sciences showed that zinc levels steadily decline in elderly individuals. This decline is linked to increased inflammation and deterioration of immune system functions—each of which plays roles in common health problems associated with aging: cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and diabetes, to name a few.
Our ability to absorb zinc is hampered by aging. With a zinc deficiency, the body’s ability to repair genetic damage may falter over time, even as that level of damage increases. The OSU study, published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, showed dysregulation of zinc transporters in older mice, which also exhibited increased inflammatory responses even though their diets supposedly contained plenty of zinc. When these mice were fed 10 times their expected dietary requirements of the mineral, their inflammatory responses were restored to more normal levels.
“The elderly are the fastest growing population in the U.S. and are highly vulnerable to zinc deficiency,” said Emily Ho, an LPI principal investigator in the study, and associate professor at the OSU School of Biological and Population Health Sciences. “They don’t consume enough of this nutrient and don’t absorb it very well.”
Some inflammation is a normal—and important—part of the immune response, but in excess, “It appears to be a significant factor in the diseases that most people die from,” Ho stated.
Medical tests for zinc can be inaccurate, and Ho recommends that the elderly supplement their diets with the recommended daily levels of zinc: 11mg for men and 8mg for women. Intake of over 40mg of zinc per day should be avoided, as high doses can interfere with the absorption of other essential minerals, including calcium and iron.
By Genevieve Weber