When it comes to protecting us from viruses and bacteria the body is a marvellous thing. Everyone is born with barriers that protect us from the outside world and act as our first line of defence. For example skin is a physical barrier, as is the digestive tract; they both physically stop invaders getting into our body. Then we have other physical barriers like the hairs in our nose and cilia (specialised hair like protrusions) in the respiratory and digestive system that sweep invaders away.
On top of these physical barriers we then have different kinds of fluids that sit on top of the surfaces that flush foreign bodies away, for example tears, sweat and nasal mucous. Others provide a protective film such as the mucosal layer in our digestive and respiratory systems, the vagina and bladder. Not taking any chances our body has another back up plan – chemical warfare. Many of our barriers have chemical compositions to kill anything that lingers there too long.
So where do Zinc and Vitamin C come into this?
Both Zinc and Vitamin C play an important part in the maintenance and integrity of our physical barriers. Zinc is required for all protein growth and it is this protein that provides the bricks for our walls. One of the deficiency signs for Zinc is in fact poor wound healing, which means that it is important for maintenance too. Studies have also shown that low zinc levels in the body results in damage to the gastrointestinal and pulmonary tracts.
Vitamin C is also essential for protein synthesis, specifically collagen in the skin. It is also required to create connective tissue and for the growth and repair of all the membranes in the body. Poor wound healing can also occur with low Vitamin C. The tissues of our respiratory system are particularly vulnerable when we have colds and flu as histamine gets released causing inflammation of the tissues. You know how it feels when your nose and throat feel all red and inflamed at the time. Vitamin C helps to reduce the release of histamine, especially when it is combined with flavonoids.
Vitamin C and Zinc are also antioxidants, which means they protect our cell walls from damaging ROS (reactive oxygen species) or free radicals. If free radicals weaken these barriers then it increases the chances of cold and flu viruses being able to get into the body.
So you can see that Vitamin C and Zinc have a great part in keeping our defence walls intact, however that is not the full extent of their good work. These key nutrients are also used in the defence fluids that sit on top of our barriers. For example Zinc is required to make stomach acid from carbon dioxide. This low pH fluid is our first line of defence to kill off any nasty’s that may have been inadvertently consumed. Zinc ions also float about in our saliva, mucosa and skin. In the skin Zinc ions are used to activate Psoriasin, an antimicrobial substance that protects the skin from e Coli infection. In the digestive system the presence of Zinc increases the secretion of antimicrobial peptides from the digestive immune cells. These are like general antibiotics that float around waiting for attacks.
In the nasal cavity zinc ions concentrate when we have a cold, and help the defences by hindering viruses attaching to binding sites in the nasal tissues. Zinc also has a direct antiviral effect that can stop rhinovirus from replicating.
Vitamin C is the main antioxidant in lung fluid and is known the help reduce respiratory infections. When the immune system responds to a threat it actually produces ROS(reactive oxygen species) to help kill viruses and any bacterial that may be floating in the fluids between the cells. This is a great general defence, but if the ROS are not removed they can then affect the immune response and damage the defence walls. Vitamin C works as an antioxidant to remove these ROS, so the immune system can continue to function optimally.
When you look at the many uses of Zinc and Vitamin C it is no wonder that they are used up quickly when we get sick. While we have only looked at their role in defence barriers and fluids they also play another role in creating white blood cells that also attack invaders to our bodies. Zinc is not stored in the body and we cannot manufacture Vitamin C, so we must ingest it. Therefore we should make sure that we take these 2 key nutrients in high amounts during the winter months. If we succumb to illness both can be taken in high doses as they are quickly used up, but they can also help reduce symptoms and the duration of illness.
By Jane Cronin, Clinicians Naturopath
Clinicians Hi-Dose Vit C contains both sodium ascorbate and ascorbic acid and may support and enhance the immune system during viral infections. Clinicians Zinc Oral Drops are a high potency, well tolerated liquid form of Zinc for cost effective flexible dosing for all age groups. Buy them both now from our secure on-line shop.
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http://jid.oxfordjournals.org/content/182/Supplement_1/S5.full – on natural killer cells c and zinc