The normal functioning of the immune system relies on adequate nutrition, even though some nutrients are more important than others in supporting your body’s ability to defend itself from infections. Zinc and Selenium are 2 of these essentials and deficiencies in either of these minerals can both increase your susceptibility to infection and also worsen the outcome when an infection does occur. Both Zinc and Selenium were among the most common micronutrient deficiencies found in individuals admitted into hospitals for infections. As a matter of fact, 2/3 of patients were found to be deficient in Zinc and almost ½ of patients were found to be deficient in Selenium.
Zinc supports immunity through indirect, direct and antioxidant mechanisms and it has been well documented that a deficiency in Zinc increases a person’s susceptibility to infections. Additionally studies show Zinc has antiviral benefits and can stop the replication of many different respiratory viruses. Zinc is essential for the activity and structure of a hormone (Thymulin) that regulates the production of T-lymphocytes. Prolonged Zinc deficiency lead to a reduction in T-cell numbers as well as an impairment of immunity.
Various studies have shown that supplemental Zinc can reduce the risk of Acute Lower Respiratory Tract Infections (ALRTI) in children. One RCT showed 10 mg of Zinc Gluconate daily for 120 days reduced the risk of ALRTI by 45%. Additional studies showed Zinc supplementation also helped children recover more quickly from infections. Children under the age of 5 receiving a 10 mg Zinc Gluconate supplement daily for 60 days reduced their incidence of ALRTI by 50% after 6 months.
So, a Zinc deficiency not only compromises immunity, but it pushes the immune system towards an inflammatory state which can predispose the body to lung and other organ damage. Animal studies have shown that Zinc supplementation improves lung damage in animals with respiratory infections.
Patients with sepsis who have Zinc deficiencies have been shown to have poor outcomes when compared to patients without Zinc deficiencies. One study showed in 20 out of 22 patients who had lower plasma Zinc concentrations also had a greater severity of the disease.
30% or more individuals over the age of 60 have been observed to have a deficiency in Zinc. This seems to contribute to the age-related decline seen in immune system function and hence increases the risk and severity of infections in the elderly. In one double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, participants were given a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement which included Zinc for a period of 1 year. Participants with normal Zinc levels showed a reduced incidence and duration of pneumonia and a reduced need for antibiotics when compared with participants with low serum Zinc concentrations. Other studies showed a 64% reduction in the risk of pneumonia in trauma patients on ventilators.
Selenium is also essential for a healthy and normal immune response. A Selenium-containing protein with antiviral properties, Glutathione Peroxidase 1 (GPX1) is among the enzymes most impacted by Selenium status.
A Selenium deficiency has been shown to increase a person’s susceptibility to influenza, hepatitis B and C, West Nile virus as well as hantavirus infections. In a study done on mice, there was a 75% mortality rate in the Selenium-deficient mice with the mortality rate reduced to 25% in mice receiving Selenium supplementation. More severe lung pathologies were seen in animals with influenza infections and Selenium deficiencies.
The risk of infections not only are increased in individuals with low Selenium levels, but low Selenium levels also aid in the emergence of new more virulent flu strains. Children with H1N1, a highly infectious type of influenza, were shown to have low blood levels of Selenium. A 45% decrease in GPX1 activity along with a 245% increase in C – reactive protein levels (a marker of inflammation) was seen in children infected with H1N1 compared to the control group. A population study also found individuals living in areas with Low Selenium levels in China had a four – to fivefold higher COVID-19 death rate than those people living in areas where the population had a high Selenium level.
The elderly populations are susceptible to nutrient deficiencies, including Selenium deficiencies, and this can contribute to increased risks for respiratory infections. In a RCT of 725 institutionalized elder patients living in 25 geriatric centers in France the effects of Selenium and Zinc on the immune system was examined. Participants received a capsule containing on the the following preparations daily: 1) Zinc Sulfate and Selenium Sulfide (providing 20 mg of Zinc and 100 IU of Selenium-The T group 2) Ascorbic Acid (120 mg), Beta Carotene (6 mg) and a-tocopherol (15mg)-The V group 3) Trace element and Vitamin Supplements –The VT group or 4) Placebo. The study lasted 6 months. The Selenium deficient patients decreased to 5% from 79% in the T group and to 9% from 81% in the VT group. The proportion of the participants who did not get a respiratory tract infection was greater in the groups that received Zinc and Selenium (Groups T or VT) when compared to the groups not receiving these nutrients. Also the antibody response to the influenza vaccine was better in both the T and VT group than in the V or placebo groups.
It is believed that Zinc and Selenium deficiencies can be additional facts that predisposes a person to infections and may increase the severity or risks of adverse outcomes if infections do occur. Both Zinc and Selenium supplementation could be important for many individuals especially those who do not get sufficient intakes of these nutrients through their diet or those individuals with conditions that could increases their risks for infections like people with Diabetes, Obesity, Malabsorption, and even people as they age.
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