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Feel a cold coming on? Think zinc. Dealing with bouts of acne? Think zinc. Perhaps you’re struggling with male infertility. Or depression. Again, it's zinc to the rescue! But don't we get enough of this important nutrient just by eating healthy? Probably not. Foods that once contained copious amounts of minerals, like zinc, are only as nutritious as the soil in which they’re grown, and it’s evident that the health of our soil is rapidly on the decline,1 which means most of us probably aren’t getting optimal amounts of this important mineral.
First, let’s pay homage to one of zinc’s most important functions in the body—supporting the immune system. One of the primary types of cells activated and supported by zinc are T cells, a type of white blood cell that seeks out and destroys infected cells.2 3 Adequate levels of zinc are essential for T cells’ division and maturation, and in the case of a zinc deficiency, T cell development and function is impaired, leading to reduced numbers of this important immune cell.4 5 Zinc also influences the activity of other important immune cells like macrophages and neutrophils, and is required for certain immune cells to communicate. Even moderate deficiencies in zinc can increase the risk of infection, and according to one review, “…impaired immune functions due to inadequate zinc status may be the most common cause of secondary immunodeficiency in humans.”6 7
Zinc is critical for supporting mood regulation and cognitive function.8 9 In a study of major depressive disorder, lower zinc levels represented a marker of the illness and were correlated with depressive behaviors, ADHD, violence and aggression in children, and impaired learning and memory. Zinc treatment was found to have antidepressant-like and cognitive supporting effects.10 11 12 13 The benefits of zinc can be seen in those who respond to traditional antidepressant therapy, as well as those who do not.14
Zinc has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, making it a powerful mineral for treating skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, and eczema.15 Topical zinc oxide is used to prevent UV-induced skin damage and may reduce the incidence of malignancies.16 17 18 Moreover, higher zinc plasma levels correlate with high sperm count and better sperm health, with low zinc levels being a potential risk factor for poor sperm quality and male infertility.19
Whatever your zinc needs may be, supplementing with this essential element can take over where foods may fall short. Soil mineral depletion is on the rise, and with it, micronutrients like zinc have declined in our food.20 Eating high-quality, organic foods is second to none when it comes to taking health matters into your own hands, but supplementing with minerals like all-encompassing zinc can offer a safety net we can all afford to have. Forms to consider taking include zinc acetate, zinc gluconate, zinc orotate, and zinc citrate.
Like zinc, selenium is a trace mineral that is important in maintaining healthy immunity, and supplementation has been shown to stimulate the immune response, including enhancing immune cell response to infection. Selenium deficiency has been shown to impair the immune response, allowing viruses to freely replicate, and to increase a person’s susceptibility to viral infections. 21 22 23 Selenium acts as an antioxidant and is needed by the body to make glutathione, one of our most powerful endogenous antioxidants. During viral infections, free radicals are produced in large amounts and without sufficient selenium, they can quickly overwhelm our antioxidant defenses, causing massive inflammation and damage to body tissues. It has been shown that selenium supplementation modulates the inflammatory response in acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) patients by restoring the antioxidant capacity of the lungs, thus improving lung function.24