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Scientists Explore How Zinc Fights Off Infection
Date:2/7/2013

THURSDAY, Feb. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Many Americans take zinc supplements to zap colds, and a new study seeks to explain how the mineral works.

Zinc helps fight infections by balancing the immune system's response, according to the study led by Daren Knoell, a professor of pharmacy and internal medicine at Ohio State University.

"We believe that our findings help to narrow an important gap that has existed in our understanding of how this relatively simple metal helps us defend ourselves from infection," Knoell said in a university news release.

Zinc deficiency affects about 2 billion people worldwide, including roughly 40 percent of the elderly in the United States. It can have severe consequences among vulnerable people, the researchers noted.

Red meat and poultry are rich in zinc, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Other foods that contain zinc are beans, nuts, some shellfish, whole grains, fortified cereals and dairy products.

The essential mineral works by stopping the action of a protein known to play an important role in the immune response to infection. As a result, it prevents out-of-control inflammation, the researchers said.

A zinc deficiency at the time of an infection, particularly sepsis -- a devastating systemic response to infection common among patients in a hospital's intensive care unit, or ICU -- could be damaging or even deadly, according to the researchers.

"We do believe that to some extent, these findings are going to be applicable to other important areas of disease beyond sepsis," Knoell said. "Without zinc on board to begin with, it could increase vulnerability to infection. But our work is focused on what happens once you get an infection -- if you are deficient in zinc you are at a disadvantage because your defense system is amplified, and inappropriately so."

After analyzing human cell culture and animal studies, the researchers found that
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