Zinc: a multipurpose trace element
Zinc (Zn) is one of the most important trace elements in the body and it is essential as a catalytic, structural and regulatory ion. It is involved in homeostasis, in immune responses, in oxidative stress, in apoptosis and in ageing. Zinc-binding proteins (metallothioneins, MTs), are protective in situations of stress and in situations of exposure to toxic metals, infections and low Zn nutrition. Metallothioneins play a key role in Zn-related cell homeostasis due to their high affinity for Zn, which is in turn relevant against oxidative stress and immune responses, including natural killer (NK) cell activity and ageing, since NK activity and Zn ion bioavailability decrease in ageing. Physiological supplementation of Zn in ageing and in age-related degenerative diseases corrects immune defects, reduces infection relapse and prevents ageing. Zinc is not stored in the body and excess intakes result in reduced absorption and increased excretion. Nevertheless, there are cases of acute and chronic Zn poisoning.