Does Zinc Help With Allergies?

An allergic reaction happens when your body’s defence system attacks foreign substances that are normally harmless, like pollen, cat hair or dander. An allergic reaction causes irritation and discomfort, like itchy skin, and/or irritated eyes, nose and throat. Zinc is a known metal, used to make items like paint, cosmetics, fluorescent lights, batteries. It is also an essential mineral, or trace element found in many foods such as red meat, cheese, beans, cereals, dairy products etc.1

How does zinc help with allergies?

Nutrients play a major role in maintaining the integrity and function of our immune system; vitamin C, vitamin D and Zinc are especially important for regulating immune functions. Literature shows that a deficiency in one or more of these nutrients may compromise our immune responses. So how does zinc help with allergies?1
We need zinc to help process our food. It aids in the breakdown and absorption of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It also helps with making enzymes; specially dedicated proteins regulating chemical processes in the body. Additionally, it has wound-healing properties.2 

It was shown that people suffering from chronic eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) found relief of their symptoms when they used zinc supplements. This is possibly because these people have lower levels of zinc in their serum, hair and erythrocytes. An allergic reaction is an overreaction of an immunological response. It is believed that zinc plays an important role in the suppression of inflammatory responses of the body’s immune system and can therefore regulate these overreactions.3 

Magnesium and allergies

Many researchers have studied the effects of magnesium deficiency in animals in inflammatory immune responses.4 Because of the role of magnesium in many biological processes in the body, its deficiencies can cause a lot of disorders. This includes an impairment of our defence system leading to an increase in inflammation and IgE levels.5

Allergies

When pollen makes you sneeze and wheeze, it is allergy season! And you probably have seasonal allergies, better known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis. Of course, these are not the only allergy symptoms you may experience. 

During an allergic response, IgE will work with the ‘invaders’ in our body, marking them for the immune cells (like T cells) in our body to attack. Eventually, the defending immune cells, like mast cells and basophils, will pick up the markers and attack, which consists of releasing histamine and other inflammatory chemicals.

This is why when you are experiencing an allergic reaction, you are advised to take antihistamines to alleviate your symptoms.7

Histamines in the immune system protects the body against harmful microbes, but with allergies, the immune system is easily triggered and overreacts to harmless substances. It can cause watery eyes, runny nose, nasal congestion, throat or skin irritation and in some, it can trigger an asthma attack.7-9 

Asthma

Asthma is a chronic condition affecting both adults and children. During an asthma attack, patients can experience shortness of breath, chest tightness or pain, wheezing upon exhaling, and coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a cold or flu and triggered by allergens, chemicals, strong odours or exercise. Asthma symptoms may vary from person to person.8,9

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis, or atopic eczema, is one of the most well-known skin diseases which leaves the skin sore, itchy, dry and cracked. It is most common in children; however, adults can also be affected. Typically, it is a chronic condition, although it can improve or clear up completely in some children as they get older.10 

There are updated information on how zinc deficiency, or hypozincemia is linked to atopic dermatitis. They show that zinc deficiency is an issue in 25% of children with severe atopic dermatitis and that they also have a high serum IgE.11 

Immunity disorder

There are different types of immune disorders; you can be born with a weak immune system, called primary immune deficiency.12 Then, there is acquired immune deficiency, where you get a disease that weakens your immune system (HIV/AIDS).13 As mentioned, you can also have an overactive immune system, for eg., during an allergic reaction.7-9 Consequently, your immune system will start attacking your own cells like they are foreign. This is what happens when you have an autoimmune disease, like Type 1 diabetes or Multiple Sclerosis (MS).14
Since it is believed that zinc plays an essential role in the suppression of inflammatory responses in the body, it is possible that zinc may help regulate these overreactions of the immune system to a certain degree.3 A study published in 2015 identified the facts and controversies of photoprotection.  Zinc Oxide was also used as a physical barrier in sunscreen preparations to help protect the skin against skin cancer through sun exposure. However, zinc was then shown to have toxicity issues and was replaced with titanium oxide.15

Recommended daily intake of zinc

If you are a person that was assigned male at birth, you need 9.5 mg a day (aged 19 to 64 years). If you are a person assigned female at birth, the daily recommended intake is 7 mg. The amount of zinc can be obtained from a balanced diet.. If you wish to take any zinc supplementation, do not exceed 25 mg a day, unless advised by your doctor. Too much zinc will reduce the amount of copper your body is able to absorb. This can then lead to anaemia and weakening of the bones.16

Over-the-counter zinc preparations

When you are looking for effective OTC (over-the-counter) zinc supplements, there are a few different types that are available.

Cold remedies, like zinc lozenges or nasal sprays, will contain zinc gluconate and zinc acetate (strictly recommended to take only after doctor’s advice).17

To prevent a zinc deficiency and potentially reduce the severity of acne, zinc sulphate is used.18

Older studies suggest that zinc picolinate is better absorbed by your body. One study in 2014 showed that zinc citrate is also well absorbed by the body and has a nicer taste than zinc gluconate.19 To facilitate a more rapid absorption, use zinc supplements with zinc ionophores, like quercetin and green tea extract (EpiGalloCatechin Gallate or EGCG).20,21

Zinc found in natural foods

Great sources of zinc are dairy, meat, shellfish, legumes or beans, nuts, bread and other cereal products.16 Seeds, like hemp, pumpkin and sesame also contain significant amounts of zinc.22

Summary

We need zinc for the digestion of our food. It aids in the breakdown and absorption of carbohydrates, proteins and fats and it helps with making enzymes. A zinc deficiency has been linked to allergies because of its role in regulating and suppressing inflammatory reactions in the body. Because of this reason, it is believed that it is possible that zinc may help regulate these immune overreactions to a certain extent.

References

  1. Name JJ, Souza ACR, Vasconcelos AR, Prado PS, Pereira CPM. Zinc, vitamin d and vitamin c: perspectives for covid-19 with a focus on physical tissue barrier integrity. Front Nutr [Internet]. 2020 Dec 7 [cited 2022 Aug 10];7:606398. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2020.606398/full
  2. Kogan S, Sood A, Garnick MS. Zinc and wound healing: a review of zinc physiology and clinical applications. Wounds. 2017 Apr;29(4):102–6.
  3. Kanda N, Hoashi T, Saeki H. Nutrition and atopic dermatitis. Journal of Nippon Medical School. 2021;88(3):171–7.
  4. Błach J, Nowacki W, Mazur A. [Magnesium in skin allergy]. Postepy Hig Med Dosw (Online). 2007 Oct 8;61:548–54.
  5. Guerrera MP, Volpe SL, Mao JJ. Therapeutic uses of magnesium. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Jul 15;80(2):157–62.
  6. Print. Allergic diseases - overview [Internet]. [cited 2022 Aug 10]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/departments-centers/allergies-allergic-diseases-mayo-clinic/sections/overview/ovc-20485278
  7. Food allergy - Causes [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2022 Aug 10]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/food-allergy/causes/
  8. What causes asthma? [Internet]. [cited 2022 Aug 10]. Available from: https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/asthma/asthma-symptoms-causes-risk-factors/asthma-risk-factors
  9. Asthma - causes and triggers | nhlbi, nih [Internet]. [cited 2022 Aug 10]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/asthma/causes
  10. Atopic eczema [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 Aug 10]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/atopic-eczema/
  11. Ehlayel MS, Bener A. Risk factors of zinc deficiency in children with atopic dermatitis. Eur Ann Allergy Clin Immunol [Internet]. 2020 Jan [cited 2022 Aug 10];52(01):18. Available from: http://www.eurannallergyimm.com/cont/journals-articles/765/volume-n-risk-factors-zinc-deficiency-children.asp
  12. Van der Burg M, Mahlaoui N, Gaspar HB, Pai SY. Universal newborn screening for severe combined immunodeficiency(Scid). Front Pediatrics [Internet]. 2019 Sep 18 [cited 2022 Aug 10];7:373. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fped.2019.00373/full
  13. Parashar S, Collins AB, Montaner JSG, Hogg RS, Milloy MJ. Reducing rates of preventable HIV/AIDS-associated mortality among people living with HIV who inject drugs. Current Opinion in HIV and AIDS [Internet]. 2016 Sep [cited 2022 Aug 10];11(5):507–13. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/01222929-201609000-00009
  14. Wang L, Wang FS, Gershwin ME. Human autoimmune diseases: a comprehensive update. J Intern Med [Internet]. 2015 Oct [cited 2022 Aug 10];278(4):369–95. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/joim.12395
  15. Skotarczak K, Osmola-Mańkowska A, Lodyga M, Polańska A, Mazur M, Adamski Z. Photoprotection: facts and controversies. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2015 Jan;19(1):98–112.
  16. Vitamins and minerals - Others [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 Aug 10]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/others/
  17. Eby GA. Zinc lozenges as cure for the common cold – A review and hypothesis. Medical Hypotheses [Internet]. 2010 Mar [cited 2022 Aug 10];74(3):482–92. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0306987709006963
  18. Tolino E, Skroza N, Mambrin A, Proietti I, Bernardini N, Balduzzi V, et al. An open-label study comparing oral zinc to lymecycline in the treatment of acne vulgaris. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2021 May;14(5):56–8.
  19. Wegmüller R, Tay F, Zeder C, Brnić M, Hurrell RF. Zinc absorption by young adults from supplemental zinc citrate is comparable with that from zinc gluconate and higher than from zinc oxide. The Journal of Nutrition [Internet]. 2014 Feb 1 [cited 2022 Aug 10];144(2):132–6. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/144/2/132/4637670
  20. Chu C, Deng J, Man Y, Qu Y. Green tea extracts epigallocatechin-3-gallate for different treatments. BioMed Research International [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 Aug 10];2017:1–9. Available from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2017/5615647/
  21. Weekley CM, He C. Developing drugs targeting transition metal homeostasis. Current Opinion in Chemical Biology [Internet]. 2017 Apr [cited 2022 Aug 10];37:26–32. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S136759311630196X
  22. Mihoc M, Pop G, Alexa E, Radulov I. Nutritive quality of romanian hemp varieties (Cannabis sativa L.) with special focus on oil and metal contents of seeds. Chemistry Central Journal [Internet]. 2012 Dec [cited 2022 Aug 10];6(1):122. Available from: https://bmcchem.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1752-153X-6-122

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IIona Kosten

Master of Science - (MS), Immunology and Infectious diseases, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam), Netherlands

Ilona has a BSc and MSc in Biomedical Sciences and a PhD in Immunology with a sweet spot for “all things allergy”.
She’s published a number of articles in peer reviewed journals ranging from skin and mucosa tissue engineering, immunoassays, DCs, LCs and T cells."

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