Is low zinc status dangerous for older adults?

Low Zinc

Is low zinc status dangerous for older adults?

Low Zinc

For many people, the physical signs of aging serve as a reminder to nourish the body and prevent health from declining. Some may turn to collagen supplements to keep their skin supple and joints healthy, or biotin supplements to keep their hair strong and full. However, there's another nutrient that is just as important. Zinc is well-known for maintaining a healthy immune system, building strong bones and keeping inflammation at bay. Healthy levels of zinc are required to prevent many age-related problems such as dementia, pneumonia or osteoporosis. Prioritizing zinc intake can help to ensure that aging is a happy and graceful experience.

Why are older adults more susceptible to zinc deficiency?

Zinc absorption abilities are compromised

Dietary zinc is absorbed in the small intestine, so the digestive system must be functioning optimally in order to absorb zinc properly. As we age, the muscles in our digestive tract start to lose strength and efficiency. Normal intestinal cells can regenerate every few days. However, after decades of use, the cells in the intestines can become damaged and take longer to reform. As a result, the digestive system may become compromised and older adults may have more difficulty absorbing zinc, even if their consumption of zinc-rich foods has not decreased.

Changes in appetite

A variety of factors can cause older adults to have decreased appetites, including:

  • Side effects of medications
  • A decrease in smell and taste
  • Less expenditure of energy
  • Pain during eating
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Acute illnesses such as an infection, broken bones or the flu
  • Chronic illnesses such as liver disease, arthritis or diabetes
  • Hormonal changes

Older adults are less inclined to eat adequate amounts of food, because physiological changes hinder their desire to eat. Over time, reduced food intake can lead to zinc deficiencies.

Zinc plays a key role in healthy aging

Prevents the loss of cognitive functions

Whether it's recalling memories from 10 years ago or performing routine tasks such as brushing your teeth, we rely on our brain cells' ability to conduct the right signals. Zinc enables normal nerve synaptic signaling and cognitive function. For every task that you perform, your brain cells must use zinc to send the correct signals throughout your body. When zinc stores are low, brain cells do not have the nutrients they need. Over time, memory loss and a decrease in cognitive abilities can occur. A severe deficiency of zinc can disturb the normal firing of nerves in the brain, causing a higher risk of brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer's.

Fights acute infections

Zinc's critical role in maintaining a balanced immune system has long been established. This mighty mineral helps the body produce natural killer (NK) cells that eliminate pathogens. Older adults need a strong immune system, as they have a higher risk of acquiring acute infections that can become severe. This is because the risk of developing chronic diseases increases with age. It is not uncommon for older adults to have several different chronic conditions. The more chronic illnesses they face, the more their ability to fight off acute infections is reduced.

For instance, if an elderly individual suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), the risk for severe pneumonia significantly increases. By having sufficient stores of zinc, the duration and severity of these infections are reduced. Studies show that even a mild zinc deficiency can decrease the production of these important fighters, leaving the body vulnerable to illnesses.

Keeps the immune response in check

Inflammation often shows up as redness or pain, but that's not always a negative reaction. In fact, inflammation is a necessary and natural physiological process that the immune system creates in order to protect against foreign invaders. However, chronic or excess inflammation is dangerous to the body because it wastes precious resources that are needed for normal bodily functions.

What causes inflammation to get out of control? Two of the biggest contributors are unchecked stress and a diet high in processed foods. Older adults are more prone to uncontrolled inflammation because both zinc deficiency and the natural aging process can cause systemic low-grade chronic inflammation. Low zinc levels are associated with exaggerated inflammatory responses that show up as systemic inflammation.

Supports strong bones

Most people reach their peak bone mass in their twenties. After that, bone density starts to decline, which can increase the risk of breaks and cracks. Without strong bones and protection from fractures, daily movement can be painful and difficult.

Although calcium is the primary nutrient for bone health, there are many more micronutrients at play. Not only is zinc one of the components of the bone matrix, it also works to stimulate gene expression to produce more osteoblastic cells that increase bone growth. Bone is constantly being broken down by osteoclast cells and rebuilt by osteoblast cells. Without sufficient zinc, the body is unable to keep up with osteoblast production and bone construction.

How to ensure older adults get enough zinc

Zinc supplementation is a great way for older adults to ensure healthy zinc levels. When supplementing with zinc, make sure to consider medication interactions – certain medications can decrease the body's ability to absorb zinc. On the other hand, zinc can also decrease the absorption of other medications such as NSAIDs and antibiotics. Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before starting supplemental zinc.

How much zinc do older adults need daily?

The recommended daily amount (RDA) for adults (ages 18+) is 11 mg/day for men or 8 mg/day for women. However, because zinc absorption in older adults is decreased, consuming more zinc may be arranged to negate these effects.

Zinc Bis-Glycinate 25 offers a gentle daily dose of zinc to support better aging. By maintaining adequate zinc levels in the body, your brain, immune and bone health will benefit greatly.

Learn more about zinc