If you’re anything like me, you can’t visit your family during the holidays without managing to catch some sort of illness from your young germ-ridden snot factory nephews. And if you’re also like me in that you’ve managed to catch a cold this winter – and chances are pretty good that you have – you’ve probably also taken some over-the-counter medications to help mitigate the misery.
There are a lot of options out there. Some people take unstudied, untested home remedies created and marketed by a schoolteacher who has never set foot in a biology classroom, a.k.a. Airborne. Some people take vitamin-c because it supposedly supports the immune system. Me? I’m going to take zinc because it suppresses the immune system.
I hope you’re confused, because that’s the effect I was going for there.
Zinc has been clinically tested to help shorten bouts with the common cold, though no scientists could pinpoint exactly why because zinc has a ton of affects and interactions in the human body. Now, thanks to recent research out of the Ohio State University, we may have an answer.
A strong immune response is always nice when dealing with foreign invaders. We want our lymphatic system to act more like American than France. But only to a point. If things get too out of control, America can start dropping nuclear bombs and cause more damage than good. To bring the analogy full circle, an unregulated immune system leads to inflammation and other symptoms.
Zinc is like the Barack Obama of the essential nutrients; it wants to ease back on the nuclear warheads. In the study, researchers revealed why a deficiency in zinc caused rampant inflammation in sepsis patients from previous studies. To summarize a lot of complicated biotech jargon, it interacts with proteins in the immune system’s first responders it prevents them from further action.
And if there’s isn’t enough zinc around, the Dick Cheneys of your body start firing off shotguns at innocent bystanders.
“The immune system has to work under very strict balance, and this is a classic example of where more is not always better,” said Daren Knoell, senior author of the study and a professor of pharmacy and internal medicine at Ohio State. “We want a robust inflammatory response, which is part of our natural programming to defend us against a bug. But if that is unchecked, and there is too much inflammation, then it not only attacks the pathogen but can also cause much more collateral damage.”
So be sure to eat your red meat and poultry season. Or if you have an irrational fear of being carnivorous, put down decent amounts of beans, nuts and dairy.
The paper, “ZIP8 regulates host defense through zinc-mediated inhibition of Nf-kB,” was published in the journal Cell Reports by the aforementioned Daren Knoells and coauthors Ming-Jie Liu, Shengying Bao, Charlie Pyle, Andrew Rudawsky and Mark Wewers of the Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute; Marina Gálvez-Peralta and Daniel Nebert of the University of Cincinnati Medical Center; Ryan Pavlovicz and Chenglong Li of Ohio State’s Biophysics Program (Li is also in the College of Pharmacy); and David Killilea of Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute.