The mineral zinc has demonstrated a surprising ability to help the liver fight virus infections and prevent tissue damage caused by chronic liver diseases. By regulating a specific protein, zinc both strengthens the immune defense and counteracts undesirable inflammation. This was shown in a new Australian study headed by scientists from Westmead Institute for Medical Research.
It also turns out that minor to moderate zinc deficiencies are rather common. Most importantly, sugar, birth control pills, inorganic iron supplements, and ageing processes impair the body’s ability to absorb zinc. Moreover, it is often difficult to get enough zinc from vegetarian and vegan diets. Being zinc-deficient takes its toll on the immune system and the liver, but also has a negative impact on the countless enzyme processes that involve zinc.
The somewhat surprising study, which was headed by Dr. Scott Read and Professor Golo Ahlenstiel, showed that zinc has a natural way of inhibiting the inflammatory and antiviral effect of interferon lambda (IFN-ƛ3), a protein that is associated with tissue damage and chronic liver ailments. According to Read, zinc also counteracts virus infections such as hepatitis C and influenza by inhibiting IFN-ƛ3. The scientists have shown that zinc counteracts several aspects of the liver’s immune response that are linked to IFN-ƛ3.
There are different kinds of interferon. They generally work as signaling substances among cells, whereby they stimulate the body’s immune response against virus infections.
A new potential for the treatment of virus infections and liver inflammation
Zinc works by binding to cellular IFN-ƛ3 receptors, which results in reduced antiviral activity. Zinc also helps block the inflammatory activity caused by IFN-ƛ3, something that is linked to an aggravation of liver cirrhosis caused by virus or other causes.
In other words, zinc helps activate the immune response against virus in a desirable way that prevents the immune system from overreacting and causing inflammation and tissue damage.
According to Read, the new data focuses on zinc’s potential as a simple and effective treatment against acute and chronic liver inflammation. The study is published in Nature Communications.
Zinc’s potential in the diet, from supplements, and in salves
Studies suggest that a sufficient zinc intake from the diet or from supplements has a huge potential in the prevention and treatment of various virus diseases such as colds, influenza, hepatitis C, and herpes. It is even possible to use zinc salve to treat herpes breakouts.
A regular cold is fought faster with large doses of zinc
According to a Finnish meta-analysis, where most study participants were cold-ridden, those who took daily supplements of zinc (80-92 mg/day) were over their colds after five days, compared with those who did not take supplements of zinc. This intake level is way beyond the DRI (Daily Reference Intake) level. The Finnish scientists also point to other controlled studies where even larger zinc doses were administered to patients for several months. Quite as expected, the zinc-supplemented participants did not experience serious or long-term side effects.
Lead investigator, Dr. Harri Hemilä from the University of Helsinki, calls for further studies of how to administer zinc supplements in connection with colds. He advises cold patients to experiment with zinc supplements. The risk of side effects is minimal, provided people do not exceed 100 mg of zinc daily (in connection with a cold) for a shorter period.
It is important to make sure to use high-quality zinc supplements, which the body can absorb, and to take a sufficiently high dosage during the days where the immune defense is actively combatting the cold. Other than for that purpose, large therapeutic dosage are not recommended.
Zinc levels in the blood often drop drastically during infections
This is because the white blood cells absorb and utilize quite a lot of zinc to fight the virus and bacteria.
Important Sugar, birth control pills, inorganic iron supplements, and ageing processes may impair the actual uptake of zinc.
Choose organic zinc supplements that the body can absorb and utilize
Zinc supplements often contain inorganic zinc sources such as zinc sulfate or zinc oxide, which it is difficult for the body to absorb. Make sure to study the label to see what kind of zinc is in the preparation. Zinc gluconate and zinc acetate are both organic zinc compounds that the body can easily absorb and utilize.
Measurements of zinc levels in plasma are an inexpensive way to analyze zinc status and are becoming increasingly popular.
The following increases your need for zinc:
- Acute infections
- Abuse of sugar, tobacco, alcohol, stimulants, and junk food
- Birth control pills or hormonal disturbances
- Pregnancy and possibly lactation
- Vegetarian/vegan diets (zinc from plant sources are not absorbed well)
- Skin, hair, and nail disorders
- Poor wound healing and after surgery
- Ageing processes due to poor absorption
Important During acute virus infections, the body also needs vitamin D and extra vitamin C and selenium
Scott A et al. Zinc is a potent and specific inhibitor of IFN-ƛ3 signalling. Nature Communications, 2017
Westmead Institute for Medical Research. Zinc may hold key to fighting liver disease. ScienceDaily June 1, 2017
University of Helsinki. Zink acetate lozenges may increase the recovery rate from the common cold by three-fold. ScienceDaily May 11, 2017
Pernille Lund. Styrk immunforsvaret. Hovedland 2013
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