The Role of Zinc in Strengthening Your Immune System

The role of zinc in the functions of the immune system has been studied in recent years. For this reason, specialists currently recommend its consumption to improve your body's response to infectious agents.
The Role of Zinc in Strengthening Your Immune System
Mariana Sánchez Huergo

Written and verified by the nutritionist Mariana Sánchez Huergo.

Last update: 30 May, 2022

Zinc is one of the essential minerals that contribute to the strengthening of the immune system. In general, ensuring proper nutrition is crucial for your body to respond to infectious agents.

A study published in the journal Nutrients highlights that vitamins (such as A, B6, B12, C, D, and E) and minerals (selenium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper) complement the action of the immune system.

However, not getting enough of these nutrients is common, which causes a higher rate of infections and their respective consequences. In this article take a look at the role zinc plays and how to optimize your zinc intake.

The role of zinc in strengthening your immune system

First, acute respiratory infections, such as seasonal influenza epidemics and the recent outbreak of COVID-19, are a frequent cause of health problems and mortality worldwide. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that seasonal influenza causes 3 to 5 million serious illnesses that require hospitalization and cause high death rates worldwide.

Although proper hygiene measures and vaccines are effective tools to protect against infections, not all diseases of this type have a vaccine. Vaccines take time to develop. In fact, it may take many years before one is approved.

Because of this, additional we need to adopt strategies to address infectious epidemics. One measure, for example, is the use of immunonutrients to strengthen the immune system. Keep reading to learn about the role of zinc, its mechanisms of action, and foods that contain it.

A patient and doctor wearing protective equipment.
A deficiency of some nutrients like zinc can cause your immune system to weaken. For this reason, in addition to conventional treatments, it’s important to pay attention to your nutrition.

Zinc: The main characteristics

Researchers have known the role of zinc in the functioning of the immune system for a long time. They discovered zinc-dependent thymulin, involved in the development of T lymphocytes in the thymus, four decades ago.

This trace element is an integral component of more than 3,000 proteins that play a role as enzymes and transcription factors that participate in cellular signaling pathways and DNA repair and replication processes.

Read also: Why Do You Need to Increase the Zinc in Your Diet?

Mechanisms of its immune action

Among the multiple functions in signal transduction and cell proliferation that this mineral exerts, it’s not surprising that it plays an important role in immune function. According to an article published in the journal Metallomics, zinc is necessary for the maturation and maintenance of the balance of T cells.

For example, researchers have shown that a zinc deficiency can cause decreased Th1 lymphocyte-mediated immunity and promote inflammation reactions (characterized by interleukin 1β secretion).

Food sources of zinc

As we already mentioned, researchers have studied the role of zinc in strengthening the immune system on several occasions. Although you can consume this mineral in the form of single supplements or a multivitamin, ideally you should consume it naturally through food.

The main sources are the following:

  • Oysters, which provide 76 mg per 85 g portion of food.
  • Fortified grains, which provide 15 mg per 30 g serving.
  • Beef, which contains 6.2 mg per 100 g.
  • Chicken, which provides 2.7 mg per 100 g serving.
  • Pork, which contributes 2.9 mg per 100 g.
  • Seafood is also a good source of zinc. For example, clams provide 21 mg per 100 g, while sardines provide 3 mg per 100 g.
  • Finally, legumes are a modest but notable source. They contain 1.8 mg of zinc per 170 g serving.
Foods with zinc to boost your immune system around blocks that spell out "zinc".
Although it’s possible to get zinc from supplements, it’s best to get it from natural sources.

The role of zinc and supplements

It’s important to establish nutritional recommendations for micronutrients. To start, authorities such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) should endorse the intake of supplements.

Specifically, and to support the optimal functioning of the immune system, specialists recommend you consume between 8 and 11 mg of zinc per day. Finally, it’s important to highlight the importance of eating animal products as the main source of zinc. While they are not the only source, this is very important for vegetarians and vegans to keep in mind. 

You might be interested in: Magnesium, a Complete Mineral

The importance of a proper diet

Finally, it’s important to emphasize the need to maintain a healthy and varied diet to get all the vitamins and minerals necessary for the proper functioning of the body. In fact, deficiencies in various micronutrients have been observed in overweight and obese people.

According to an article published in Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders, one of the reasons why nutrition suffers in overweight individuals is the consumption of processed foods, which contain too much trans fat and simple sugars. These foods not only promote weight gain, but lack necessary vitamins and minerals. Consequently, eating  them increases the probability of contracting infectious diseases.

For this reason, it’s essential to remember the role of zinc and other nutrients to strengthen your immune system and support its function. This, accompanied by basic hygiene measures, will help your body to be prepared for possible infectious agents.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

    • World Health Organization Influenza (Seasonal). Available online: sheets/detail/influenza-(seasonal) (accessed on 2 March 2020).Calder P, Carr A, Gombart A, Eggersdorfer M. Optimal
    • Nutritional Status for a Well-Functioning Immune System Is an Important Factor to Protect against Viral Infections. Nutrients. 2020;12(4):1181.
    • Haase H, Rink L. Multiple impacts of zinc on immune function. Metallomics. 2014;6(7):1175.
    • Bonaventura P, Benedetti G, Albarède F, Miossec P. Zinc and its role in immunity and inflammation. Autoimmunity Reviews. 2015;14(4):277-285.
    • Elmadfa I, Meyer A. The Role of the Status of Selected Micronutrients in Shaping the Immune Function. Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders – Drug Targets. 2019;19(8):1100-1115.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.