Even Mild Zinc Deficiency Can Impair Immune Function. Dear Vegetarians, Get Your Zinc.

Zinc: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals, National Institutes of Health

Immune Function

Severe zinc deficiency depresses immune function [51], and even mild to moderate degrees of zinc deficiency can impair macrophage and neutrophil functions, natural killer cell activity, and complement activity [52]. The body requires zinc to develop and activate T-lymphocytes [2,53]. Individuals with low zinc levels have shown reduced lymphocyte proliferation response to mitogens and other adverse alterations in immunity that can be corrected by zinc supplementation [52,54]. These alterations in immune function might explain why low zinc status has been associated with increased susceptibility to pneumonia and other infections in children in developing countries and the elderly [55-58].


The bioavailability of zinc from vegetarian diets is lower than from non-vegetarian diets because vegetarians do not eat meat, which is high in bioavailable zinc and may enhance zinc absorption. In addition, vegetarians typically eat high levels of legumes and whole grains, which contain phytates that bind zinc and inhibit its absorption [34,41].

Vegetarians sometimes require as much as 50% more of the RDA for zinc than non-vegetarians [2]. In addition, they might benefit from using certain food preparation techniques that reduce the binding of zinc by phytates and increase its bioavailability. Techniques to increase zinc bioavailability include soaking beans, grains, and seeds in water for several hours before cooking them and allowing them to sit after soaking until sprouts form [41]. Vegetarians can also increase their zinc intake by consuming more leavened grain products (such as bread) than unleavened products (such as crackers) because leavening partially breaks down the phytate; thus, the body absorbs more zinc from leavened grains than unleavened grains.

3 thoughts on “Even Mild Zinc Deficiency Can Impair Immune Function. Dear Vegetarians, Get Your Zinc.

  1. Bix Post author

    A rule of thumb for zinc in food, particularly non-animal food, is … the higher the protein content, the more zinc. So, generally, fruit being low in protein is low in zinc. Beans, nuts, and seeds being higher in protein are higher in zinc.


  2. Bix Post author

    I’m seeing things going around about taking high-dose vitamins to either prevent getting infected with coronavirus or to lessen symptoms. I don’t believe in any of them. High-dose vitamins have unwanted side effects, even if it’s just as a dross on the system and a strain on the kidneys to remove them. This post isn’t about getting any more than 11mg of zinc, the RDA, preferably from food. To prevent deficiency.

    If getting a vitamin from food is difficult, it’s reasonable to take a supplement. Just don’t go over the RDA.



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