Why Taking Zinc and Probiotics May Benefit Immune Health
By Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS
In this article:
When it comes to support for your immune system, the nutrient that may first come to mind is likely vitamin C, which is often promoted as being a natural defender against common colds and other illnesses. But did you know that zinc is also an essential nutrient for supporting a healthy immune defense, as well as healthy digestion and more?
When coupled with probiotics, which are the “good guy” or “friendly" bacteria that live in your gut microbiome and help to crowd out harmful microbes, zinc is especially capable of supporting your body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients and to defend against pathogens.
Below we’ll look closer at foods in your diet that can provide you with essential zinc, as well as how the relationship between zinc and probiotics can promote overall health.
You’ll find zinc in foods, including red meat like beef, organ meats including liver, poultry, dairy products, eggs, quinoa, chickpeas, lentils, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, almonds, plus some fortified foods like breads and cereals.
If you’re looking to boost your immune wellness routine, emphasizing the foods above can help you meet your zinc requirements. However, for some people, opting to take a zinc supplement is also wise, since it offers additional support for your immune system, gut, brain, and beyond.
Low levels of zinc can occur when someone doesn’t eat enough foods that contain this mineral, or if they have trouble absorbing and using it due to older age or compromised gut health.
If you eat a restrictive diet that eliminates certain food groups— for instance, if you’re a vegan/vegetarian and avoid all meat, eggs and fish — then supplementing can help you meet your zinc needs. You can also ask your healthcare provider if supplementing is a good option for you if you have trouble absorbing minerals for other reasons, or if you’re pregnant.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that have roles including supporting nutrient absorption and general gut health. While zinc and probiotics each offer support for your immune system and healthy digestion, when combined they are even more powerful.
- Support for healthy immune defenses and immune system activation.
- Support for normal microflora in the gut, and for generally healthy gut function and gastrointestinal lining integrity.
- Support for healthy respiratory mucosal immune responses.
- Promotion of normal digestion, including a reduction in issues like occasional constipation and gas.
If your diet is generally lacking zinc-rich foods, then adding a supplement to your routine can be a good way to fill in the gaps and help ensure you’re maintaining normal levels.
For the best results, opt for a high-quality zinc supplement, for example, one that features enzyme-activated zinc to help with absorption.
“Enzyme activated” zinc differs from elemental zinc or amino acid chelated zinc where it is bound to other compounds. When zinc is activated it is thought to be “body ready” and recognizable to the body so it’s more easily utilized.
Zinc supplements are typically taken in capsule form, often only once daily, and can be consumed with or without food. When combined with probiotics, taking zinc on an empty stomach is usually the best option, such as 30 minutes before a meal. This prevents stomach acid levels from increasing which can make it harder for probiotics to be absorbed properly.
In addition to building your immune defenses and supporting healthy digestion, zinc also positively impacts many other systems in the body, too.
For example, it plays a role in your body producing collagen, which is a structural protein that you can think of as the “glue” that holds your body together since it forms connective tissues and cartilage.
As an essential mineral that all humans require, some important roles that zinc generally has include:
- Facilitating the liver in mobilizing and releasing stored vitamin A into the bloodstream.
- Supporting normal DNA synthesis and cell division.
- Supporting normal macrophage functions, normal inflammatory reactions, and normal development of immune cells/natural killer cell activity.
- Growing and repairing connective tissues, including the skin.
- Having antioxidant effects and fighting oxidative stress.
- Supporting fertility, normal growth and development during pregnancy, and development in infants.
Zinc works with other minerals in the body, so it will have the most powerful effects when your diet includes a range of nutrient-dense foods, such as fresh vegetables, nuts, seeds, grass-fed meats, and healthy fats. And by eating fermented and high-fiber foods, such as cultured veggies, berries, yogurt, seeds, and whole grains, you’ll help probiotics to better thrive in your gut.