Zinc 'keeps immune system in check'
Researchers say they have gained a key insight into how zinc helps the immune system fight infection.
A study shows that zinc stops the immune system from spiralling out of control, as happens when people develop sepsis.
After previous studies in mice, the researchers from Ohio State University had shown that zinc-deficiency could lead to excessive inflammation.
This is what happens in sepsis, when in response to a severe infection, the body goes into overdrive, with potentially fatal consequences.
Through further experiments in human cells and animal studies the researchers found that a protein called NF-kB lured zinc into the immune cells that responded fastest to fight infection.
Once inside, the zinc then put the brakes on further activity in the NF-kB pathway, slowing down the immune response and limiting the amount of inflammation, the study, in Cell Reports, indicated.
It was effectively a feedback loop, stopping the process getting out of hand, the researchers said.
Study leader, Dr Daren Knoell, said: "The immune system has to work under very strict balance, and this is a classic example of where more is not always better.
"We want a robust inflammatory response, which is part of our natural programming to defend us against a bug.
"But if that is unchecked, and there is too much inflammation, then it not only attacks the pathogen but can also cause much more collateral damage."
"The implications of the work extend beyond the impact of zinc on innate immune function," he said.