The anti-inflammation mineral you need to stave off disease

When your body becomes inflamed, it starts the process of chronic disease in your body. And unless you get enough of an important mineral, destructive inflammation may be in your future.

Your immune system depends on having the right amount of zinc. Otherwise, the process of inflammation can run wild and start damaging the body, causing chronic illnesses that are the biggest killers in the world – high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

“When you take away zinc, the cells that control inflammation appear to activate and respond differently; this causes the cells to promote more inflammation,” says researcher Emily Ho, who is with the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

More than one in ten people in the U.S. consume too little zinc. For older people, the situation is worse: About 40 percent of people over the age of 65 get insufficient zinc.

“It’s a double-whammy for older individuals,” says Ho.

How to get your zinc

In lab tests, the Oregon scientists demonstrated how zinc deficiency accelerates the inflammatory responses. Without enough zinc, cells run into trouble regulating the activity of IL-6, a protein that is central to controlling inflammation.

Ho also points out that the recommended daily intake of zinc for adults – 11 milligrams for men and 8 milligrams for women – probably should be increased for older adults.

Unfortunately, there is no good blood test to show if you are short on zinc. But the body can’t store much zinc, so it’s necessary to frequently eat zinc-rich foods.

Related: The mineral deficiency that could be behind your high blood pressure

Foods high in zinc include meat and shellfish. Oysters are particularly high in zinc. Unfortunately, older adults don’t eat enough of these zinc-rich foods and their intestinal tracts can’t absorb the mineral very efficiently. That makes them especially vulnerable to developing a zinc deficiency.

To prevent a deficiency and stop inflammation, you can supplement. Zinc, like magnesium, can be found in quite a few forms. Zinc acetate is good for reducing colds, and zinc gluconate is fine, if made through an industrial process. Probably the most absorbable is zinc orotate because it passes into cell membranes more easily that other forms of zinc.

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Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.