Zinc Deficiency Can Lead To Cancer, Diabetes, Other Diseases
October 3, 2012

Zinc Deficiency Can Lead To Cancer, Diabetes, Other Diseases

Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) recently found that a zinc deficiency mechanism is related to aging and a number of diseases.

The study highlights how a lack of zinc can cause difficulties for the immune system as well as heightened inflammation, thus leading to other health problems like autoimmune disease, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

“Some inflammation is normal, a part of immune defense, wound healing and other functions,” explained Emily Ho, a principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute and an associate professor in OSU School of Biological and Population Health Sciences, in a news release. “But in excess, it´s been associated with almost every degenerative disease you can think of, including cancer and heart disease. It appears to be a significant factor in the diseases that most people die from.”

In particular, scientists form the Linus Pauling Institute at OSU collaborated with researchers at the OSU College of Public Health and determined that zinc is especially important for the elderly as their ability to absorb zinc declines over time. The findings from the study were recently featured in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

“The elderly are the fastest growing population in the U.S. and are highly vulnerable to zinc deficiency,” continued Ho in the statement. “They don´t consume enough of this nutrient and don´t absorb it very well.”

The researchers conducted a study with laboratory animals and discovered that zinc transporters were impaired in older animals. The animals appeared to have a higher amount of inflammatory response due to the low levels of zinc. The team of investigators experimented by giving the animals nearly 10 times their normal dietary requirement for zinc and saw that the biomarkers of inflammation returned to the level found in younger animals.

“We´ve previously shown in both animal and human studies that zinc deficiency can cause DNA damage, and this new work shows how it can help lead to systemic inflammation,” noted Ho in the statement.

Based on the findings of the study, the researchers recommend that aging adults include a dietary supplement of a full amount of the recommended dietary allowance of zinc. Males should take 11 milligrams a day of zinc, while females should take 8 milligrams. According to the National Institute of Health, zinc is found a number of foods and helps propel cellular metabolism. Beans, dairy products, fortified cereals nuts, some types of seafood and whole grains are just a few food items that contain zinc. Those who may be at risk for zinc deficiency include vegetarians, pregnant and lactating women, people with sickle cell disease or gastrointestinal disease and alcoholics.

“We found that the mechanisms to transport zinc are disrupted by age-related epigenetic changes,” commented the study´s co-author Carmen Wong, an OSU research associate, in the statement. “This can cause an increase in DNA methylation and histone modifications that are related to disease processes, especially cancer. Immune system cells are also particularly vulnerable to zinc deficiency.”

Overall, researchers believe that zinc is necessary to help protect the body from DNA damage and oxidative stress. With low levels of zinc corresponding to aging, it becomes more and more difficult for the body to heal from any genetic damage that occurs. Due to the difficulties of assessing zinc deficiency with tests, the scientists recommend that individuals make sure to have the right amount of zinc through diet and supplements.