February 7, 2012

The One Thing to Enhance Your Immune System.

Photo: Wikimedia

Everyone is saying the same thing: everyone is sick!

At least this year things seem a lot milder and a lot less virulent than in other years, probably from the drier winter going on across the country. So with all this activity, I was thinking about that one thing that can help the most.


This is my favorite one thing—if I were to have to chose just one thing—for enhancing the immune system. Zinc is an excellent anti-bacterial for the throat. In addition to that, it is one of the stronger immune supports one can utilize when sick. Women can get deficient during their periods, and sexually active men are in need of more zinc—as it is used for prostate fluid, which is what sperm swim in. Additionally, zinc is found in high amounts in the macula (part of the retina) and in even higher amounts in our auditory system. It is used by over 200 enzymes in our body and is also a component of collagen synthesis, which is essential for wound healing. And this is just touching the surface really.

Women, look at your nails. Do you have tiny white spots on them? That can be a zinc deficiency. When women get their periods, they have a greater need for zinc. When women come in complaining of ‘always’ getting sick, the first thing I do is look at their fingernails. This is only a novel way of assessing zinc status. Another way is the zinc tally test.

Our taste buds use zinc and when the body gets deficient in zinc, guess what is lowest on the totem pole? You guessed it. So there is this zinc sulphate solution that you can hold in your mouth for 30 seconds to see if you taste the sulpher. When you can’t taste the sulpher, then we are to assume your body is not keeping up with its need for zinc. I don’t do this in-office test anymore. I used to, as it costs almost nothing to do. Instead I just go right to the zinc.

One of my favorite studies on zinc looked at zinc levels of 668 hospitalized subjects, aged 70 or over, with 104 healthy controls of the same age and from the same geographical area. Those sick and needing hospitalization had significantly lower zinc compared to the healthy control group. Low zinc was found in 35.7% of those with respiratory disease, 20%- 27% for cancer, infectious disease, trauma, blood diseases, and genitourinary diseases, and less than 20% with other diseases. (1)

T Cells: Wikipedia

Our thymus gland uses zinc for the hormone called thymulin which is crucial for the creation of those most important white blood cells, the T cells.

And there are a plethora of studies, far too numerous to mention here, siting positive outcomes with HIV and immune enhancement with zinc. (2)

I started this post with the title “How to Avoid a Sore Throat This Winter” as I do use zinc as my first line of attack against a sore throat. And for many colds and flus the sore throat is the first sign of something coming on, so not a bad idea to hit this hard immediately when it happens.

That said, the throat can be a petri dish for microorganisms as it is an extension of the nasal passages. The overload of bacteria on the throat can cause irritation that manifests in a horse voice or outright pain from an infection. As soon as I was a little run down or pulled an all-nighter in school, voilà, a sore throat would quickly ensue.

That was then. Now I have these zinc lozenges that work wonders.

Zinc Supplements: Wikipedia

Supplementing with Zinc

Taking some extra zinc is very safe. I don’t know any doctor who has ever seen excess zinc in a person. No doctor would even know what that looks like without looking it up.

The USRDA of zinc in an adult is a mere 15mg. Double this is not a problem and, in fact, is probably closer to optimal for our busy, high-productive lives. When we are sick and needing that extra push, 60mg to even 90mg a day (divided as much as possible) for a few days is not a problem (see “Caveat” below!).

When taking zinc in a pill, always stick to a capsule over a tablet when possible. The picolinate, citrate and gluconate forms of zinc are much better absorbed than zinc oxide. Poor quality zinc, like zinc oxide, will tend to not absorb and cause stomach upset. Higher amounts of zinc regardless of the quality can also cause stomach upset. This is no problem and immediately remedied by eating.

What I use in my practice is a 10mg lozenge of zinc gluconate, as I think it is a good idea to do some direct throat maintenance since you are taking it anyway. But what is most crucial about the use of zinc for the throat is the amount of time the zinc is in contact with the throat tissue. The longer the time, the more it can put its anti-bacterial and anti-microbial activity to work against the staph and other organisms you may be growing. So what I recommend is to do the zinc lozenge while you are laying on your back. Barely sucking the lozenge means that it will dissolve very slowly, and the zinc will pool in the throat more.

The 10 mg lozenges are also a nice complement to some multi-vitamin/mineral formulas that may already supply 10 or 15 mg, allowing you to more accurately dose.

The Major Caveat

Taking too much zinc can deplete the essential trace mineral copper. It is assumed by many that we get most of our copper from the copper pipes our water runs through. But with the increasing use of plastics and PVC, we are switching this mineral out for an increased risk of cancer from these plastic toxins. So if you take a lot of zinc, like 30-50mg or so a day, consider taking a couple milligrams of copper also. It also helps the immune system and will help keep your arteries more elastic, and that means a lot for your aorta!

My hope is that you will benefit from this information so that you can practice true preventive health, and need doctors a whole lot less! If you still find yourself in a dreadful state in spite of taking enough zinc to look like a dime, then do call me—I can help with phone, Skype or an in-office appointment to get you back on your feet faster than anything else available to you! And, please submit questions to me for my Q & A series. Everything you ever wanted to know about natural medicine, now you get to ask! Email me with questions at info [at] drpaulgannon [dot] com.
1Serum Zinc and Copper Status in Hospitalized vs. Healthy Elderly Subjects J. Am. Coll. Nutr. December 1, 2007 26: 650-654

2 Therapeutic Application of Zinc in Human Immunodeficiency Virus against Opportunistic Infections, Journal of Nutrition. 2000;130:1424S-1431S.)


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