What is Zinc? What is Zinc’s Role in the Immune System?

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Zinc is an essential mineral for a healthy immune system.

You might have heard about using zinc lozenges to help decrease the duration of a cold. Zinc, one of the essential minerals that we must get from food or supplements, plays several important roles in health. It's involved in...

  • Protein synthesis
  • Cell division
  • Growth and development
  • A normal sense of taste and smell
  • Immune function

Zinc is also a crucial component of over 100 enzymes.

Gatekeeper for our Immune Systems

Zinc is often called the gatekeeper of our immune systems because the optimum function of almost all immune cells rely on zinc as an essential component. Zinc plays a role in our body’s immune defense against viruses and pathogens, and it also helps protect our bodies against an overactive immune system that might be implicated in chronic inflammation, allergies, or autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and age-related macular degeneration.

A Few Zinc Tips:

  • Plan to choose a variety of foods each day that are good sources of zinc to meet your daily needs. Foods that contain zinc are also excellent sources of other important nutrients. Here's a sample menu...
    • Breakfast with 1 cup oatmeal, 1 cup milk, and 1 ounce of almonds
    • Lunch with a sandwich with 2 slices whole grain bread, 1 ounce Swiss cheese, and 2 ounces sliced turkey plus a salad
    • Dinner with 3 ounces roast beef, ½ cup green peas, and 1 small potato
    • All this meet the zinc needs for most adults.
  • If you’re not able to meet your zinc needs through food, consider a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement that contains zinc, but only after discussing  using a supplement with your physician.

Want to learn more about zinc? Don't miss...

By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDCES, CPT, CHWC



  1. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Zinc: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/ updated 7-15-20; accessed 11-28-20
  2. Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017;9(12):1286. Published 2017 Nov 25. doi:10.3390/nu9121286
  3. Hunger and Health. Feeding America. Understand Food Insecurity. https://hungerandhealth.feedingamerica.org/understand-food-insecurity/ accessed 11-28-20
  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Food Data Central. Oysters, steamed. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1099136/nutrients published 10-30-20; accessed 11-28-20
  5. Consumerlab.com. Zinc Supplements and Lozenges Review. https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/zinc-supplements-lozenges-review/zinc/ updated 11-3-20; accessed 11-29-20
  6. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source. Are Anti-Nutrients Harmful? https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/anti-nutrients/ accessed 11-28-20
  7. Wessels I, Rolles B, Rink L. The Potential Impact of Zinc Supplementation on COVID-19 Pathogenesis. Front Immunol. 2020;11:1712. Published 2020 Jul 10. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2020.01712


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