~ 102307 Maintaining Normal Zinc Levels Helps Protect Elderly From Pneumonia

The October, 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that having adequate levels of the mineral zinc may help protect nursing home-bound individuals from pneumonia and its sometimes deadly complications.

For the current research, Simin Nikbin Meydani, DVM, PhD of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and associates utilized data from an earlier study on vitamin E's protective role against respiratory infection in 617 Boston nursing home residents. In that double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, men and women aged 65 and older received daily supplements providing half of the recommended daily allowance of a number of vitamins and minerals, including zinc, for one year. Serum zinc levels were measured in blood samples collected at the beginning and end of the trial.

Dr Meydani's team found that participants whose serum zinc levels remained low throughout the course of the study had a greater risk of developing pneumonia, longer recovery times, and a longer course of antibiotic treatment than those whose zinc levels were normal. Among participants whose zinc levels were normal at the beginning of the trial there was a reduction in mortality from all causes over the course of the study.

"Based on our data, it appears that daily zinc intake can help nursing home residents who are susceptible to pneumonia, especially those with low serum zinc concentrations in their blood," stated Dr Meydani. "The study participants with normal serum zinc concentrations in their blood reduced their risk of developing pneumonia by about 50 percent. Additionally, deaths from all causes were 39 percent lower in this group."

Among subjects who developed pneumonia, "Those participants with normal serum zinc concentrations in their blood were more likely to spend fewer days on antibiotics and recover more quickly," Dr Meydani observed.

"Zinc is already known to strengthen the immune system; however, there needs to be further investigation of zinc and its effect on pneumonia development and prevention in nursing homes," Dr Meydani recommended. "The next step would likely be a clinical trial."

Health Concern: Immune system strengthening

The impact of aging on the immune system is profound. As people age, a number of critical immune system components are reduced or slowed, including cellular response, response to vaccines, and antibody production. At the same time, susceptibilities to infection and cancer are increased.

Because of their ability to scavenge free radicals, antioxidants are important immune-system boosters. Supplementation with antioxidants like vitamins C and E and the B vitamins may improve immune function (Grimble RF 1997), and supplementation with vitamin A stimulates antibody-mediated immune responses (Cantorna M et al 1995).

Metallic micronutrients such as copper, zinc (Prasad AS 2000), and selenium influence the activity of antioxidant enzymes and can reduce oxidative stress. Among children, deficiencies of zinc, copper, and selenium have been linked to immune deficiency and infection (Cunningham-Rundles S et al 2005).

Zinc deficiency is linked to impaired immune function, partly because of decreased T lymphocyte and B lymphocyte function. Zinc has shown the ability to decrease inflammation and the production of IL-2 (Tanaka S et al 2005). Copper and zinc together have been shown to stimulate internally produced antioxidants such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase (SOD) (Kuppusamy UR et al 2005).

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