Zinc is good for many cellular processes, including the immune system. It is required for the activity of many enzymes and proteins, including those involved in making new cells, apoptosis (cell death), bone growth, tissue repair, and antioxidant defense systems.
Zinc is so crucial for humans that scientists labeled it as the “Metal Of Life.” This is due, in part, to its participation in cell growth, immunity, tissue repair, synthesis of proteins and DNA, the thyroid gland, and optimal bone functioning.
Zinc deficiency may contribute to immunological changes associated with aging resulting in immune system disorders. Supplementing zinc will help fight inflammation, lengthen telomeres, regulate autophagy, and help deactivate mTOR, which are all deeply associated with aging. With this in mind, this article will focus on why zinc is good for healthy aging.
Zinc Deficiency Speeds Up Aging
Zinc deficiency can lead to various problems and impairments, including poor immune response (immunosenescence), oxidative inflammatory aging (inflammaging), and accelerated aging. Here is a brief description of the two terms:
The cells in our body and immune system change with age and become less able to protect us from disease-causing organisms. These changes are known as immunosenescence.
Healthy immune cells protect you from diseases and how fast you age. The decline in immune system cells’ functions associated with aging increases the risk of illness and death. Finding ways to slow down immunosenescence will increase lifespan and healthspan.
Gerontologists recognize inflammaging as one of the major contributors to age-related physical decline.
Inflammaging refers to how chronic inflammation slowly and steadily accumulates as a person ages. It can take the form of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other disorders.
It attacks the organs and cells in your body, just like a harmful bacteria or virus would. Inflammaging is also responsible for many chronic health problems that people often assume are simply part of life as you grow older, such as arthritis, frailty, sleeping problems, and poor vision, to name a few.
Inflammaging is not inevitable. It is, basically, a side effect of aging. You can do things to reduce the risk, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising, stress management, and getting enough sleep. Or you can add zinc to your daily supplementation. (More on this later)
Who Is At Risk For Zinc Deficiency?
Zinc deficiency is a severe problem worldwide that the World Health Organization labeled it a significant disease contributing factor.
About 17% of the world population (or 2 billion people) have a zinc deficiency. More troubling is that researchers estimate that most people over 65 have an intake of zinc below the 50% recommended level. There are several reasons for this.
An average healthy adult has a total body content of 2–3 g of Zn, and only about 1% of it is replaced daily. And since zinc is not a mineral produced by the body or stored in sufficient amounts, it has to come from food or supplement sources to maintain adequate levels.
Zinc deficiency can be congenital (born with this problem) or acquired (get it at any time in life).
Most people that have zinc deficiency are from developing countries. However, developed countries are not ruled out. The natural aging process and many diseases also cause this deficiency.
Older and/or frail people suffer from zinc deficiency because they avoid meats or other foods rich in this mineral to prevent raising cholesterol levels.
Other people at high risk for zinc deficiency are:
- Those who eat high phytate foods (legumes, whole grains, seeds, and nuts)
- Those who consume high oxalate foods (teas, spinach, nuts, okra, rhubarb, beets, french fries, potato chips)
- Non-meat eaters
- People on diuretics, high blood pressure medication, and antibiotics
- Women who are pregnant
- People with chronic diseases (diabetes, liver, kidney, gastrointestinal, HIV, and sickle cell diseases)
- People who have a hookworm infection
- Athletes, especially endurance athletes
As you can see, anyone in the world can be zinc deficient and not even know it. Zinc deficiency can be due to excessive zinc losses from the body resulting in the need for more of an intake to meet their needs.
Why Zinc Is Good For Healthy Aging
Zinc Is Good For Immunosenescence And Inflammaging
Immunosenescence is the deterioration in the body’s immune system as it reaches or exceeds middle age. This process influences susceptibility to infection and cancer susceptibility. A reduction in T cells, B cells, and natural killer cells are all signs of immunosenescence. In addition, higher levels of interleukin-6 and C-reactive proteins may also be found in an individual undergoing this process.
This process causes constant low-grade inflammation, making you very sick and eventually killing you.
One study conducted on 55 people between 57 and 87 who were given 45 mg. of zinc daily for 12 months showed significantly lower infection rates, oxidative stress, and inflammation.
Another double-blind, randomized study included 40 people between the ages of 56 and 83; researchers gave them 45 mg of zinc gluconate for 6 months to see if the zinc would cause an
anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect. The findings showed that zinc effectively lowered C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, and other inflammatory molecules responsible for inflammaging and immunosenescence.
The bottom line is that zinc is good for immunosenescence.
Zinc Is Good For Telomere Health
Telomeres are the protective caps at the end of each strand of DNA that help prevent our genetic information from unraveling. They’re like the plastic tips on shoelaces that prevent them from fraying.
Our telomeres naturally shorten as we age, but we may experience aging-related health issues, such as slower metabolism and decreased immune function, when they get too short. Zinc is one of the nutrients that play a role in telomere length and health.
One study published in the scientific journal PLOS One in 2017 showed that zinc improved telomere length and expressed that “the telomere length, as well as the hTERT gene expression and the telomerase activity, were significantly increased in the presence of 1.5 × 10−8 M ZnSO4 by more than 1.67, 2.39 and 1.77 fold in comparison to the control group, respectively.”
An earlier study conducted in 2000 reported that supplying added zinc in a cell-culture medium improved telomerase activity. (Telomerase is the enzyme responsible for preserving the length of telomeres)
Zinc Can Decrease mTOR Function
mTOR is a protein that regulates metabolism and cellular autophagy. (More on autophagy later in the article). mTOR also plays a vital role in the aging process since it regulates metabolism and oxidative stress levels. The inhibition of mTOR has been proposed to extend human lifespan.
Zinc is a mineral that has been shown to decrease mTOR function by blocking its activity significantly. As stated earlier, if you can inhibit or decrease mTOR function, you can extend your lifespan.
When mTOR is active, studies show that it reduces lifespan. The objective is to inhibit it and keep it that way. Zinc supplementation and other lifestyle changes can help you do just that.
Zinc Can Activate Autophagy
Your cells are constantly recycling their parts. A process called autophagy is responsible for this recycling, and it plays an indispensable role in reducing the risk of diseases and extending lifespan.
It’s how our cells “clean house” and get rid of unnecessary things, like old proteins or mitochondria. When autophagy goes wrong, it can lead to health problems.
Zinc is crucial for the activation of autophagy. This study showed that when zinc was depleted in a cell medium, it caused a notable reduction in autophagy in cells. Contrarily, when zinc was added to the cell medium, it activated autophagy. It also regulates the beginning of the autophagy process and the end. (Source at Section 4.2)
How Much Zinc Do You Need For Healthy Aging?
The proper supplementation of zinc depends on numerous factors discussed below.
For Older Adults
If you are over 65, you should first get your zinc levels checked by a doctor. If the levels are low, you should take 30 mg for 3 months to help increase serum zinc concentrations. According to a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study done on the elderly in nursing homes, 30 mg appears to be the appropriate dosage.
Another study recommended that healthy men over 70 take 11 mg daily, while women should take 8 mg, and 40 mg should be the maximum tolerable dosage.
For Other Age Groups
A recent 2022 study recommended the following:
- A healthy adult should take about 15 mg daily and a maximum 25 mg daily.
- Infants should be given 1 to 5 mg daily.
- Women that are pregnant should take 20 mg daily.
The Mayo Clinic recommends the following zinc dosage for the U.S:
- Adult and teenage males—15 milligrams (mg) per day.
- Adult and teenage females—12 mg per day.
- Pregnant females—15 mg per day.
- Breast-feeding females—16 to 19 mg per day.
- Children 4 to 10 years of age—10 mg per day.
- Children birth to 3 years of age—5 to 10 mg per day.
The Amount Of Zinc Needed For Healthy Aging Depends On Factors Affecting Zinc Losses
Studies show that the average loss of zinc daily is from 0.69 to 22.4 mg, compared to daily intake from food that ranges from 1.4 to 23.3 mg. The average person is left with a meager amount of zinc in their body.
In addition, high phytate contents in the diet can lower zinc absorption by up to 45 % in adults. As mentioned earlier, high-phytate foods include legumes, whole grains, seeds, and nuts.
The more phytate foods you eat, the more zinc is blocked, and the more zinc you will need to supplement.
Note: High protein foods from animal sources neutralize phytate’s damaging effect. So, eating high-in-phytate foods and including meat sources simultaneously will significantly help zinc absorption and bioavailability. (Source at Section 4.2)
To know if you are deficient in zinc, you should get a blood test done. According to the results, you should take a recommended dose as mentioned in the studies above or what your doctor ultimately recommends.
The objective is to maintain normal levels so you will not unknowingly become deficient in this essential mineral.
What Is The Best Zinc To Take As A Supplement?
There are different types of zinc supplements, such as:
- Zinc picolinate
- Zinc gluconate
- Zinc sulfate
- Zinc citrate
- Zinc acetate
- Zinc orotate
The Best Zinc Supplement Is “Zinc Bis-Glycinate”
Another form of zinc appears to be superior to all the rest. It is called “Zinc Bis-glycinate.” It can easily be purchased on Amazon. And this is the type I take. Let me explain why.
Numerous animal and human studies have shown that it has better bioavailability, and as such, it makes it more effective, better absorbed, and more tolerable once it enters your gut. (Source, at pages 13-14)
Zinc bis-glycinate is a chelate composed of one zinc molecule bound to two glycine (amino acid) molecules. In the intestinal tract, it is absorbed intact and does not compete with other minerals for absorption. (Source, at page 6)
In this study, zinc bis-glycinate was compared to oxide, picolinate, and gluconate. As you can see, glycinate ranked the highest for bioavailability in humans. In other research, the bioavailability of zinc glycinate was significantly superior by 16% to zinc sulphate.
In another randomized control trial on humans, the researchers compared zinc bis-glycinate to zinc gluconate, and again it showed zinc bis-glycinate as being much superior in bioavailability. In this instance, by as much as 43.4% more. The trial also showed that it was safe to take and well-tolerated.
What Is Elemental Zinc?
The word “elemental” refers to how much of the actual element is present in the supplement. In other words, just because a zinc supplement container says 25 mg per tablet, it does not mean that you are getting 25 mg of pure zinc (elemental).
You want to get your appropriate zinc intake in an elemental form. For example, if your goal is to get 10 mg of supplemental zinc daily, and each tablet contains 25 mg of zinc, but only 5 mg is elemental, you will need to take 2 tablets to meet your daily elemental zinc intake.
Note: Most bottles show how much elemental zinc is in each tablet.
As mentioned earlier, zinc bis-glycinate is the best bioavailable zinc, according to research. And for this reason, the elemental zinc should also come from this supplement source.
If you are zinc deficient, you will experience health issues, and so is the case if you have excessive zinc in your body. It can be toxic and cause numerous health issues, such as:
- weakened immune system
- gastrointestinal problems
- reduced copper levels
- a decrease in your good cholesterol (HDLs)
- metallic taste
Studies have shown that a healthy person can regularly take up to 40 mg of zinc daily (elemental zinc) without any adverse effects.
Another study has shown that when a person takes between 150 to 450 mg daily, they will experience severe toxic symptoms. The study further confirmed that “zinc is a relatively nontoxic nutrient with supplemental intakes <50 mg/d.”
Zinc is good for you, but you must not abuse its intake. This rule applies to all supplements and not just zinc.
Aging is a complex process that, in humans, can involve changes in all cells. As we get older, our immune system defenses are weakened, and we are more likely to develop diseases.
Zinc is good for healthy aging because it plays an intricate part in the aging process, as it is involved in the formation of new proteins, DNA repair, and cell division.
It plays a crucial role in regulating numerous biomarkers of aging. Notably, zinc is good for increasing autophagy, decreasing mTOR’s activity, and stabilizing telomeres.
Zinc also plays a pivotal role in protecting you from immunosenescence and inflammaging, two contributors to age-related physical decline.
It’s no wonder that science has labeled it “THE METAL OF LIFE!“