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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

The immune system and the impact of zinc during aging

Hajo Haase and Lothar Rink*

Author Affiliations

Institute of Immunology, Medical Faculty, RWTH Aachen University Pauwelsstrasse 30, 52074 Aachen, Germany

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Immunity & Ageing 2009, 6:9  doi:10.1186/1742-4933-6-9

Published: 12 June 2009

Abstract

The trace element zinc is essential for the immune system, and zinc deficiency affects multiple aspects of innate and adaptive immunity. There are remarkable parallels in the immunological changes during aging and zinc deficiency, including a reduction in the activity of the thymus and thymic hormones, a shift of the T helper cell balance toward T helper type 2 cells, decreased response to vaccination, and impaired functions of innate immune cells. Many studies confirm a decline of zinc levels with age. Most of these studies do not classify the majority of elderly as zinc deficient, but even marginal zinc deprivation can affect immune function. Consequently, oral zinc supplementation demonstrates the potential to improve immunity and efficiently downregulates chronic inflammatory responses in the elderly. These data indicate that a wide prevalence of marginal zinc deficiency in elderly people may contribute to immunosenescence.