The pandemic taught us the importance of certain essential elements in keeping our immunity strong. Clinical Nutrition Support specialist Mercedita Macalintal, MD, an expert from Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed), says that zinc and vitamin D are two essential nutrients our body needs to stay healthy and ward off diseases.
“Even mild to moderate degrees of zinc deficiency can impair immune function and make you susceptible to pneumonia and other diseases. Meanwhile, vitamin D or what we call the ‘sunshine vitamin’ is critical to bone health, as well as infection and inflammation control,” she says.
Dr. Macalintal explains that zinc is responsible not only for the proper functioning of the immune system by removing harmful free radicals, repairing cells and replicating them but also for the catalytic activity of more than 100 enzymes, synthesis of genetic materials and maintenance of cell integration. It is also essential to one’s growth and development.
Here’s the catch: the body can’t produce or store zinc. “To prevent zinc deficiency and the problems that go with it, you need to supplement your body with it through the food that you take,” she adds.
Zinc can be found in only small amounts in food, increasing our chances of deficiency. Lack of dietary diversity may make us more prone to zinc deficiency.
Dr. Macalintal says those with zinc deficiency may experience poor immune system function, slow wound healing, diminished sense of taste and smell, appetite loss, diarrhea and skin rashes around the nose, mouth and anus.
Zinc deficiency is also associated with spontaneous abortion, congenital malformation, low birth weight, intrauterine growth retardation and possible complications during labor and deliveries for pregnant women.
It’s a must to include foods naturally rich in zinc. Dr. Macalintal lists down oysters, crabs, lobsters, pork, beans, nuts, whole grains like oatmeal and brown rice, dairy products and some green leafy vegetables as food that can help us consume adequate amounts of zinc.
The body’s zinc requirement depends on one’s age, she adds. The latest Recommended Energy Intakes (RENI) by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) specifies that an adult woman will need 5 mg per day, while an adult male will require 7 mg a day. Pregnant or lactating women, meanwhile, will need 12 milligrams. Children should take in at least 2 milligrams and up to 10 mg, depending on their age and gender.
With most of us forced to stay at home amid the pandemic, Dr. Macalintal warns that we could be now more prone to vitamin D deficiency, which may affect how our body fights acute respiratory infection and prevent chronic illnesses like coronary heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.
“Having adequate vitamin D can also help improve your mood, especially in these challenging times. Vitamin D deficiency may increase your risk of depression and may even affect cognitive function and brain health,” she adds.
Several factors can lead to Vitamin D deficiency like age (as older adults are less capable of producing Vitamin D as compared to young adults), skin pigmentation due to UV penetration on the skin, obesity and patients suffering from certain forms of malabsorption disorders and too much use of blocking creams.
Some signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include frequent colds, flu and other respiratory infections; muscle, bone and back pain; skeleton deformities; slow wound healing; severe hair loss and irritability, especially in children because of bone pains, Dr. Macalintal points out.
“We get vitamin D from the food we eat. Our skin can produce vitamin D when we get our daily dose of sunlight. That’s why it’s also known as sunshine vitamin,” she says. If you can’t spend some healthy time under the sun, you can still increase the amounts of vitamin D in your body by eating fatty fish, egg yolks, cheese and beef liver. Taking vitamin D supplements can also help.”
In the time of Covid-19 that’s threatening our very health, we need to make every measure we can to keep ourselves safe. By maintaining our health with more zinc and vitamin D, we also do our part in keeping our loved ones and the greater community safe.
For more information, please contact MakatiMed On-Call at +632.8888 8999, email [email protected], or visit www.makatimed.net.ph.