American scientists have uncovered a biological mechanism by which zinc deficiency develops with age eroding the immune system and making a person vulnerable to cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
The research, conducted by Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, suggests the elderly get adequate intake of zinc, since they may need more of it at this life stage when their ability to absorb it is declining.
About 40 percent of elderly Americans and as many as two billion people worldwide have diets that are deficient in this important, but often under-appreciated micro-nutrient, the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, reports.
Zinc can be obtained in the diet from seafood and meats, but it is more difficult to absorb from grains and vegetables — a particular concern for vegans, according to a Linus Pauling statement.
The study, based on lab animals, found that they showed signs of zinc deficiency and had an enhanced inflammatory response (immune system’s response to an illness or infection) even though their diet supposedly contained adequate amounts of zinc.
When the animals were given about 10 times their dietary requirement for zinc, the bio-markers of inflammation were restored to those of young animals.
“The elderly are the fastest growing population in the US and are highly vulnerable to zinc deficiency,” said Emily Ho, principal investigator from Linus Pauling. “They don’t consume enough of this nutrient and don’t absorb it very well,” Emily said.
“We’ve previously shown in both animal and human studies that zinc deficiency can cause DNA damage, and this new work shows how it can help lead to systemic inflammation,” Ho said.
Ho said that she would recommend all senior citizens take a dietary supplement that includes the full required daily allowance (RDA) for zinc, which is 11 mg a day for men and eight mg for women.
Carmen P. Wong, Kathy R. Magnusson, Emily Ho, Increased inflammatory response in aged mice is associated with age-related zinc deficiency and zinc transporter dysregulation, The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, Available online 13 September 2012, ISSN 0955-2863, 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2012.07.005.