Zinc and Other Minerals Help Autoimmunity
Autoimmune conditions are on the rise throughout Western countries. Is there anything we can do? Many doctors dismiss efforts to turn the immune system around in an autoimmune condition. Is there really no hope?
Diseases considered autoimmune range include:
• Addison disease
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus)
• Ulcerative colitis
• Crohn’s disease
• Multiple sclerosis (MS)
• Type 1 diabetes
• Graves disease
• Guillain-Barre syndrome
• Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
• disorders include:
• Celiac disease
• Myasthenia gravis
• Pernicious anemia
• Reactive arthritis
• Sjögren syndrome
• Interstital cystitis
• Alopecia areata
• Lichen planus
Certainly, these and many others considered autoimmune conditions are heavy hitters. They disable or kill billions of people around the world.
The commonality among autoimmune diseases is that the immune system begins to attack its own cells. The issue is typically within the regulatory system that proliferates and deranges the activity of T cells, and/or B-cells. Mechanisms that should regulate these cells shuts down. When these immune cells proliferate and become deranged, they can begin to damage what should theoretically be considered normal cells.
Often autoantibodies are involved in the process. These are immunity immunoglobulins that communicate to T cells the difference between cells that are foreign versus normal cells.
Definition of autoimmune disease
The clinical definition of an autoimmune disease was proposed by Dr. Ernst Witebsky in 1957. There are three basic requirements according to Witebsky’s postulates:
1. Direct evidence for the existence of damaging antibodies or T cells
2. Indirect evidence from the duplication of the autoimmune disease in experimental animals
3. Circumstantial evidence from clinical clues.
This certainly paints with a wide brush. The most important of these is the first – antibodies or T cells that damage the body in some way.
Zinc deficiencies grow as autoimmunity grows
On a worldwide basis, zinc deficiency seems to be growing. And even in the United States, a 2009 study estimated that up to 14 percent of the population is deficient in zinc or at risk of zinc deficiency.
Other research has found that zinc supplementation increases immunity and stimulates and regulates the immune system.
For example, a 2014 study from Ohio State University found that zinc supplementation reduced sepsis infections.
Other research that has shown that people who supplemented with 75 milligrams of zinc per day reduced the average cold duration by up to a day.
So why is zinc so important to immunity? And can it really help autoimmune conditions?
Zinc supplementation and autoimmune disorders
A 2016 study from Germany’s Aachen University found that zinc supplementation increased autoimmune tolerance. In particular, Th17 cells significantly decreased, and autoimmunity symptoms were reduced in laboratory research.
Another 2016 study from Aachen University found that zinc supplementation reduced T cell expansion and stabilized cytokines typically involved in autoimmune responses.
A 2012 study from Germany’s Otto-von-Guericke-University found that zinc aspartate supplementation reduced T cell proliferation and reduced autoimmune reactions in laboratory research. The scientists duplicated autoimmunity and found that 1.5 milligrams per kilo of body weight (about 2.2 lbs) was able to significantly alter T cell proliferation.
The question now becomes – why is zinc so critical to autoimmunity?
Ion channels and zinc transporters
Immune cells contain ion channels just as other cells do. These ion channels allow the cell’s actions to be signaled by a particular type of mineral.
There are many types of ion channels. These include calcium, magnesium, potassium and many others. The ion channel is a pathway through the cell membrane, through which the mineral ion can travel.
Another function of ion channels is a pump or transporter, which carries the mineral through the ion channel and into the cell’s organelles.
One type of transporter that has come to the attention of researchers of autoimmunity is the zinc transporter. The zinc transporter has been shown to significantly benefit immune cells. The benefit comes in the way of pushing zinc ions into the immune cell, and also delivering the zinc through to the organelle.
For example, the ZnT5 transporter has been linked to regulating immune function among mast cells. In 2009 scientists from Japan’s RIKEN Research Center for Allergy and Immunology researched zinc transporters. They concluded that ZnT5 was the critical element in cell-mediated delayed-type allergic responses.
Other transporter systems, such as ZnT4, work to accommodate different zinc levels within the bloodstream. These in essence help regulate the use of zinc within the immune cells.
In general, the research has found that zinc availability and transport into immune cells is a key player in allergic reactions and delayed autoimmunity.
Ion channels and T cell development
The science is pointing to the reality that ion channels regulate the development of T cells. Now think about this carefully. Autoimmunity is a problem of T cell development. As mentioned above, when T cells are acting inappropriately, they target the body’s healthy cells. When they target the body’s healthy cells, they produce autoimmune conditions related to the particular type of cells they are damaging.
The particular type of ion channels critical to T cell development are:
• Calcium channels
• Magnesium channels
• Zinc channels
• Chloride channels
• Potassium channels
Zinc channels are particularly critical, as they can affect the thymus gland cells. Researchers have found that when mice were fed a diet deficient in zinc, T cells developed in the thymus were developed abnormally – with an accelerated maturation of T cells.
Calcium and magnesium channels are also critical to T cell development. This includes a type of calcium channel called CRAC – calcium release-activated channels.
And each of these ion channels are critical to the development of B cells – which can also be involved in autoimmune disorders.
They are also critical to other types of immune cells. For example, potassium channels are critical to the development of macrophages. Macrophages are also activated by calcium ions, which enter through CRAC channels.
Can mineral supplementation help immune function?
Yes, this is some complicated stuff. The bottom line question is: Will mineral supplementation can increase and stabilize immune function?
This is a roger. Research has found that zinc deficiency is associated with a number of immune deficiencies. For example, zinc supplementation was linked to the increased ability to fight bacterial sepsis infections.
The research also found that a deficiency in mothers is linked to immune cell deficiencies among the children.
A study from the University of Copenhagen found that selenium supplementation cut the risk of developing infections including respiratory infections by as much as 40 percent. They also found that selenium deficiencies were linked with longer hospital stays and worse outcomes.
While this article discusses zinc, a mineral strategy should include calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, selenium and trace minerals.
With regard to zinc: Most dietary recommendations suggest 8 (women) to 11 (men) milligrams of zinc per day for adults and teenagers. Infants recommendations range from 2 to 3 milligrams a day, while children range from 3 (1-3 years old) to 8 (9-13 years old) milligrams per day.
As shown from research discussed above, supplementation can go much higher, but one must be careful about mineral imbalances. When one mineral is boosted over others out of range of common food mineral balances, this can create metabolic problems.
When boosting zinc levels, it is important to balance increased levels of calcium, magnesium and potassium along with those trace elements.
The solution is to take a combination of natural trace minerals and macro mineral supplements. These can be found in various natural sources such as rock salt and coral calcium.
A diet with good natural zinc sources is also important. Nuts, legumes and fermented soy are great sources of dietary zinc.
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Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.