Zinc Triggers Body Defenses

Cold sufferers take heart: A University of Florida study offers new evidence that zinc—the latest rage in cold remedies—may provide immediate protection against disease.

"We were startled that the response in people was so dramatic and so rapid," said Robert J. Cousins, the Boston Family eminent scholar of human nutrition with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "It was amazing that the levels of the genetic material we were studying went up after only one day on zinc supplements.

"This result suggests that part of the body's protective system is very sensitive to zinc. Although more research is needed, our findings are a major step toward proving that zinc supplements can help fight infections and protect people against stress."

Cousins worked with former UF doctoral student Vicki Sullivan on the research, which was published in the Journal of Nutrition last April.

The study is the first to apply genetic fingerprinting methods like those used in criminal and paternity investigations to understanding how nutrients directly affect the inner workings of human immune cells, Cousins said.

Cousins' research could lead to better tests for zinc deficiency, which has been tied to decreased immunity in the United States and to widespread infections in developing countries.

The best source of zinc in the diet is meat, although the mineral also is present in grain, beans and vegetables. "You can get a good amount of zinc through a healthy diet, but zinc supplements are worth considering, especially for people who don't include meat in their diet," Cousins said.


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Reprinted from the University of Florida Focus, University Of Florida Alumni Association, PO Box 14425, Gainesville, Florida 32604-2425.