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Study: Zinc Boosts Immunity In Elderly

Study: Zinc Boosts Immunity In ElderlyAccording to new findings by Tufts' Simin Nikbin Meydani, maintaining normal zinc levels can help elderly patients ward off pneumonia.

Boston [11.21.07] Elderly residents of nursing homes are vulnerable to developing diseases such as pneumonia, but a new study authored by Tufts researcher Simin Nikbin Meydani, DVM, PhD, ties regular zinc intake to a reduced chance of contracting the sometimes fatal illness.

Meydani is director of the Nutritional Immunology Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts. She is also a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.

The study, published in the October issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, followed 617 nursing home residents over the age of 65 for a year-the same group Meydani studied when evaluating the role of vitamin E supplements in fighting respiratory infections.

"The study participants with normal serum zinc concentrations in their blood reduced their risk of developing pneumonia by about 50 percent," Meydani said in a statement. "Additionally, deaths from all causes were 39 percent lower in this group."

These findings were reported in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and other health-related print and online publications.

"Not only did those participants have a higher risk of developing pneumonia when they did become sick, they did not recover as quickly and required a longer course of antibiotics," Meydani said.

According to the Times, zinc helps fuel the production of lymphocytes, or infection-fighting white blood cells. A lack of zinc decreases immunity and prolongs illness recovery time.

Zinc can be obtained naturally from eating protein-rich foods, such as meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, beans and nuts, and the mineral is also included in most supplements.

Meydani notes that her research invites further investigation in a clinical trial.

"Zinc is already known to strengthen the immune system;however, there needs to be further investigation of zinc and its effect on pneumonia development and prevention in nursing homes," she said.

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