For Seniors at Risk of Pneumonia, Think Zinc

Zinc's power to strengthen the immune system may help older people stave off pneumonia, a disease that can often prove fatal to those whose health is already fragile. Researchers at Tufts' Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) report that nursing home residents ages 65 and up who had low serum zinc levels had a higher incidence of pneumonia compared to those with normal zinc levels.

The researchers analyzed blood samples from the beginning and the end of a previous one-year study involving 617 men and women from 33 nursing homes. All the participants received daily supplements containing 50% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of several vitamins and minerals, including zinc.

"The study participants with normal serum zinc concentrations in their blood reduced their risk of developing pneumonia by about 50%," says Simin Nikbin Meydani, DVM, PhD, director of the HNRCA's Nutritional Immunology Laboratory and corresponding author on the study. "Additionally, deaths from all causes were 39% lower in this group."

Maintaining zinc levels benefited the participants even if they did develop pneumonia, Meydani adds: "Those participants with normal serum zinc concentrations in their blood were more likely to spend fewer days on antibiotics and recover more quickly."

Subjects whose zinc levels remained low, however, not only had a higher risk of developing pneumonia; they did not recover as quickly and required a longer course of antibiotics.

Meydani concludes, "Based on our data, it appears that daily zinc intake may help nursing home residents who are susceptible to pneumonia, especially those with low serum zinc concentrations in their blood. This, however, needs to be confirmed in a clinical trial specifically designed to determine the effect of zinc supplementation on pneumonia in nursing home residents."

How much zinc is enough? For adult men, the RDA is 11 milligrams/day; for women, it's 8 milligrams/day. But don't think that because a little zinc is good, a lot is better: Too much zinc can interfere with copper absorption in the body.

TO LEARN MORE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, October 2007; abstract at .

Did you know… Empty calories, anyone? Americans get 15.8% of their calories from added sugars — with nearly half of that total from sipping non-diet soft drinks.

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