Zinc and autoimmune disease: A mineral to keep in mind

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What is zinc?

Zinc is an essential mineral with strong antioxidative properties which also participates in the regulation of the activity of several enzymes that are important in the human metabolism. In addition, it is supposed to modulate the immune system. Zinc is one of the 24 essential minerals that human body can’t produce and are crucial for survival. It is mainly found in meat, fish and seafood. Zinc deficiency is very common in athletes as it is lost during sweating. Some vegans and vegetarians can also have zinc deficiency if they don’t consume large amounts of legumes. Globally, less than a quarter of the world’s population has zinc deficiency, though this percentage rises amongst patients with autoimmune diseases.

Why is zinc so important in autoimmune diseases?

Research shows that zinc creams are capable of reducing psoriasis almost entirely. On the other hand, zinc supplementation significantly reduces symptoms of depression (which is very common in autoimmune diseases) in people who are not responding to conventional treatment.

If you suffer from an autoimmune disease you probably already know that avoiding colds and flus is important since they alter your immune system temporarily. Moreover, if you’re being treated with an immune-suppresing drug, avoiding colds is as important as taking the drug itself. Zinc is able to reduce symptoms and duration of the common cold if taken in the first 24 hours from the first symptoms.

Though all the latter is very important, there’s another fact that shouldn’t be ignored by autoimmune disease sufferers: zinc is able to modify the intestinal permeability. In a study with Crohn’s disease patients, zinc supplementation significantly reduced the instestinal permeability and the possibility of flare-ups. In another study with patients with infectious diarrhea, zinc induced recovery of intestinal mucosa barrier and accelerated healing. In this third study, zinc supplementation reduced the damage produced by a classic NSAID (indomethacin) and reduced intestinal permeability.

Other benefits of zinc:

Zinc supplementation reduces several inflammatory parameters such as IL-6, C-Reactive Protein and Tumor Necrosis Factor. Other benefits include the reduction of acneviral warts and tinnitus or ringing in the ears. It also significantly decreases the chance of suffering a cardiovascular event through reduction of blood sugar, lowering of LDL and reduction of insulin resistance.

Foods high in zinc

How to get zinc?

You can get zinc through nutrition since many commonly consumed foods have significant quantities of it. However, in order to correct severe deficiencies and minimize intestinal permeability the doses obtained through food are typically not sufficient. Therefore, supplementation seems very important in people with autoimmune diseases and those who are zinc deficient. We don’t think that healthy subjects can benefit from zinc supplementation and therefore don’t recommend it to this subgroup. There are close to two dozens of different zinc forms on the market. Here’s a review of the ones that, in our opinion, are the most effective:

Zinc picolinate: basically a chelated form of zinc. It’s our favorite option since this form is usually well absorbed and therefore smaller doses are needed.

Zinc citrate: though cheaper, it may produce diarrhea due to its laxative effects. It’s absorption is also lower than that of picolinate.

Zinc gluconate: not very bioavailable but still commonly used, safe and quite cheap.

Zinc sulfate and oxide: these two forms are normally used in zinc creams for topical use, mainly for the treatment of psoriasis.

There are other zinc forms such as zinc acetate but there’s not enough scientific evidence to recommend them.

Which is the best dose?

The appropriate dose will depend on each person, the lever of deficiency (if existing) and the objective of the supplementation. Zinc gluconate has been used in doses up to 200mg per day and zinc picolinate seems safe in doses up to 100mg per day. In any case, normal doses don’t exceed 30mg per day and the supplementation shouldn’t last any longer than three months. In order to maximize absortion, zinc supplements should be consumed on empty stomach and without other minerals.

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