It turns out that zinc deficiency can develop over time and become more severe as we age, according to a new study done by scientists at the Linus Pauling Institute.
Lower zinc levels can contribute to reduced immune function and increased inflammation in the body. Zinc deficiency could be affecting as many as 4 in 10 elderly Americans, according to experts.
Inflammation has been shown to be part of many conditions, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. Anything that reduces inflammation contributes to healthy aging.
This latest study used lab animals to look at zinc. What researchers found is that zinc transporters ceased to function as effectively as animals age, resulting in deficiency. This occurred even though the diet fed to the animals apparently had sufficient zinc in it – so the lack of proper transport was the culprit behind the deficiency, even though the diet contained zinc.
It is this phenomena – lack of proper transport and absorption – that also affects humans as they age. The solution is to consume more of the needed nutrient, in order to ensure that enough is absorbed into the body for use. The study actually found that lab animals needed about 10 times the dietary requirement for zinc in order to reduce the signs of inflammation down to the levels of young animals.
Other research has shown that zinc is needed both to repair DNA damage and to reduce oxidative stress. Immune function is also related to zinc levels, with lower levels affecting immune system effectiveness.
Carmen Wong, a co-author of this study, said that the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of zinc for the elderly should be reviewed. At present, the RDA for the elderly is exactly the same as the RDA for younger adults.
While zinc is a critical nutrient, researchers caution against taking too much. Intake of over 40 mg per day can cause problems with absorption of other key minerals.
Excellent sources of zinc include: venison, beef, lamb, scallops, pumpkin seeds, oats, yogurt, turkey and shrimp.
Note that this is another nutrient that is more difficult for vegetarians and vegans to get in their diet, unless they carefully select the highest sources of zinc. Also note that zinc is harder to absorb from vegetarian sources.