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Zinc: dietary intake and impact of supplementation on immune function in elderly


The diet in the elderly does not provide a sufficient level of nutrients needed to maintain an adequate healthy status leading to micronutrient deficiencies and impaired immune response with subsequent development of degenerative diseases. Nutrient “zinc” is a relevant micronutrient involved in maintaining a good integrity of many body homeostatic mechanisms, including immune efficiency, owing to its requirement for the biological activity of many enzymes, proteins and for cellular proliferation and genomic stability. Old people aged 60–65 years and older have zinc intakes below 50% of the recommended daily allowance on a given day. Many causes can be involved: among them, altered intestinal absorption, inadequate mastication, psychosocial factors, drugs interactions, altered subcellular processes (zinc transporters (Zip and ZnT family), metallothioneins, divalent metal transporter-1). Zinc supplementation may remodel the immune alterations in elderly leading to healthy ageing. Several zinc trials have been carried out with contradictory data, perhaps due to incorrect choice of an effective zinc supplementation in old subjects showing subsequent zinc toxic effects on immunity. Old subjects with specific IL-6 polymorphism (GG allele carriers; named C−) are more prone for zinc supplementation than the entire old population, in whom correct dietary habits with foods containing zinc (Mediterranean diet) may be sufficient in restoring zinc deficiency and impaired immune response. We summarise the main causes of low zinc dietary intake in elderly reporting an update on the impact of zinc supplementation upon the immune response also on the basis of individual IL-6 polymorphism.

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This study was supported by unrestricted educational grant from Danone, by INRCA, Cariverona Foundation (Italy) and ZINCAGE European Project (n. FOOD-2004-506850; Coordinator: Eugenio Mocchegiani).

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Correspondence to Eugenio Mocchegiani.

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Javier Romeo passed away 8 August 2011. This manuscript is dedicated to his memory.

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Mocchegiani, E., Romeo, J., Malavolta, M. et al. Zinc: dietary intake and impact of supplementation on immune function in elderly. AGE 35, 839–860 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-011-9377-3

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  • Dietary zinc intake
  • Zinc intestinal absorption
  • Zinc supplementation
  • IL-6 polymorphism
  • Ageing
  • Immunosenescence