By James P. Meschino, DC, MS
A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry  underscores the importance of zinc supplementation, especially as we get older, as an important means to help prevent cancer, support immune function, and control inflammation associated with many health problems, including cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disease and diabetes.
Previous studies by the same researchers showed that, in both animal and human studies, zinc deficiency can cause DNA damage linked to cancer risk. The latest study suggests that zinc deficiency also leads to systemic inflammation. In addition, immune system cells are also particularly vulnerable to zinc deficiencies, and zinc is essential to protect against oxidative stress and help repair DNA damage.
The Latest Findings
Based on findings with laboratory animals, the researchers found that the mechanisms to transport zinc are disrupted by age-related epigenetic changes, which can cause an increase in DNA methylation and histone modifications related to cancer development. More specifically, zinc transporters were significantly dysregulated in old animals. They showed signs of zinc deficiency and had an enhanced inflammatory response, even though their diet supposedly contained adequate amounts of zinc.
When the animals were given about 10 times their dietary requirement for zinc, the biomarkers of inflammation were restored to those of young animals.
Why You Should Supplement With Zinc
Studies show that approximately 40 percent of elderly Americans have diets that are deficient in zinc. The elderly are the fastest growing population in the U.S. and are highly vulnerable to zinc deficiency, as they don’t consume enough of this nutrient and don’t absorb it very well. In zinc deficiency, the risk of which has been shown to increase with age, the body’s ability to repair genetic damage is decreasing even as the amount of damage is going up. The combination of these two factors contributes strongly to the risk of cancer.
Moreover, the excess inflammation that results from suboptimal zinc status is associated with most degenerative diseases, including cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease. Experts such as Dr. Ho, co-author of the most recent study, recommend that all seniors take a supplement that contains the full RDA for zinc, as zinc is important throughout all of adult life to support immune function, taste bud function, wound healing, antioxidant defenses, eye health, and prevention of cancer and inflammatory states.
Finally, zinc intake above 40 milligrams per day should be avoided because it can interfere with absorption of other necessary nutrients, including iron and copper. High levels of supplementation are also linked to increased risk of genito-urinary tract conditions.
Wong CP, Kathy R. Magnusson, Ho E.
Increased Inflammatory Response in Aged Mice Is Associated With Age-related Zinc Deficiency and Zinc Transporter Dysregulation
J Nutr Biochem, 2013 (Jan); 24 (1): 353–359 ~ FULL TEXT