Child
29th Sep 2020

Looking after your child’s immune health may be a top priority to help you weather the storm of bugs and germs. Consuming a varied diet of nutrients may help with this, and a handy place to start is by ensuring they are consuming an adequate amount of zinc.

Read on to learn more about how zinc interacts with your immune health and food sources which may help them to receive it in their daily diet.

What Is Zinc?

Zinc is an essential mineral that plays important roles within your little one’s body, including supporting their healthy growth and development, immune function and vision health (1). It is an essential trace element for all forms of life, meaning there are small traces detected in the body but the precise amount is unknown (2).

Zinc is also an antioxidant, which means it can help reduce free radical formation in the body. Free radicals are natural by-products of chemical processes in the body, such as your metabolism, and can cause damage to parts of cells like proteins and DNA (3).

Importantly, our bodies can’t produce zinc which means it’s important for your child to consume adequate amounts of it through the foods they eat.

How Does Zinc Support The Immune System?

When your child’s immune system fights off unwanted bugs and germs, this is called an immune response. Mounting an immune response is a complex process and there are several important vitamins and minerals at play.

In particular, zinc plays a role in immune cell development and function. These immune cells regulate innate (the first line of defence against germs) and adaptive (second line of defence) immune responses (1). To learn more about the difference between innate and adaptive immunity, click here.

Zinc is also important for the communication between immune cells, helping them to work together more efficiently. Our immune responses also rely on zinc when macrophages are released (4). Macrophages are large white blood cells that form an important part of the immune system.

When your child has adequate zinc levels, their immune responses are regulated and function optimally. Conversely, low levels of zinc may weaken these responses and reduce their body’s ability to ward off unwanted bugs and germs (4). Adequate zinc intake is important for maintaining the integrity of the immune system, particularly for the healthy development and functioning of cells.

How Can You Support Your Child’s Zinc Intake?

The best way to support your little one’s consumption of essential vitamins and minerals is through a healthy, balanced diet. But, you may be wondering which foods have higher zinc levels than others.

You may know that meat and fish are sources of zinc but did you know that some cereals and dairy foods also contain this essential mineral?

The zinc in some foods is more readily absorbed by your child’s body than other sources. This is known as nutrient bioavailability (1). Zinc in meat, eggs and seafood tends to be more bioavailable than what is found in grains and legumes (1). You can learn more about nutrient bioavailability here.

As zinc absorption is higher in animal foods, those consuming a vegetarian diet may need to consume up to 50% more zinc than the RDI set.

Some common food sources of zinc include:

  • Crab
  • Lamb
  • Prawns
  • Beans
  • Red meat
  • Fortified cereals

When looking for a defence against bugs and germs, ensuring you consume enough zinc in your daily diet can be a handy place to start. Not only does zinc support your immune system but we also know it can help with vision health and support growth during peak periods, like childhood and pregnancy. How do you get your daily dose of zinc?

If you have any concerns about your child’s zinc intake, contact your local healthcare professional.

If you found this information useful, you may enjoy the following:

The Ultimate Guide: Which Vitamins Are Important For Children

Important Minerals For Your Child (And How To Get Them) 

References:

  1. Zinc (2014). Zinc. [online] Linus Pauling Institute. Available at: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/zinc.
  2. What are Trace Elements? What are Trace Elements? -Their deficiency and excess states- Osamu WADA. (2004). Journal of the Japan Medical Association, [online] 47(8), pp.607–612. Available at: http://www.med.or.jp/english/pdf/2004_08/351_358.pdf.
  3. Liou, S. (2015). About Free Radical Damage – HOPES Huntington’s Disease Information. [online] HOPES Huntington’s Disease Information. Available at: https://hopes.stanford.edu/about-free-radical-damage/.
  4. Shankar, A.H. and Prasad, A.S. (1998). Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 68(2), pp.447S-463S.

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