Joy Stephenson-Laws, Law Offices of Stephenson, Acquisto & Colman, Inc.

One to three million serious infections occur every year in nursing home facilities. Infections include urinary tract infections, diarrheal diseases, antibiotic-resistant staph infections and many more.

These infections are a major problem for our elderly who are already inclined to have impaired immune systems as they age. Age and taking medications are examples of two factors that make it difficult for their bodies to absorb essential nutrients, like certain minerals and vitamins.

And according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a simple solution to reducing the rates of infection may be administering zinc supplementation to the elderly in nursing homes who need it.  

Zinc is an essential trace mineral with invaluable health benefits. It helps the immune system function properly. Zinc deficiency has been reported to negatively affect immunity and increase the likelihood of infectious diseases, which is a major cause of death in the elderly.

Older people tend to have lower zinc levels and low zinc intake. Reportedly, a high proportion of nursing home elderly (30%) have low serum zinc concentrations at baseline and after one year of follow up. Serum zinc concentrations (amount found in blood) at less than 70 mcg per deciliter is considered low. Levels equal to or above this amount is considered adequate.

Those with low zinc had a significantly higher incidence and longer duration of pneumonia, as well as all-cause mortality, than did those with adequate serum zinc concentrations.

Researchers suggested zinc supplementation of 30 mg per day over a period of three months was feasible and significantly increased serum zinc concentrations.

An important takeaway from this new study is that higher dose of zinc may be necessary in order to see an improvement in serum zinc levels. Researchers had previously administered 5mg and 7mg of zinc, but this was not nearly enough (30 mg appears to be the “magic” number).

So how can we be proactive about making sure our elderly gets enough zinc?

  • If you have an elderly relative or friend in a nursing home, work with a competent doctor or nutritionist to make sure they get a comprehensive nutrient test at least annually. This will identify various nutrient imbalances, such as zinc and other critical mineral and nutrient deficiencies.
  • Educate them about zinc rich foods, like beans, chia seeds, almonds, pecans and oatmeal. 
  • If there is a need to take zinc supplements, we recommend physician grade supplements which are well researched and used by medical doctors.
  • Determine whether your elderly relative has a balanced gut. A balanced gut may help the elderly better absorb nutrients from the foods they eat, and also help overall immune function.
  • Be mindful of the medications they are taking (both prescription and over-the-counter drugs). Medications may deplete the body of essential nutrients, and as we age we tend to take more medications. And caffeine, large doses of iron, calcium, bran and phytates all decrease zinc absorption.

Note, though, that zinc may affect the performance of medications they take. For example, it may interact with medications such as penicillamine (used for Wilson’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis), antibiotics like quinolones (Cipro, Levaquin, etc.) and tetracycline, by reducing their absorption.

Finally, please keep in mind that the high importance of getting adequate zinc does not mean that they should consume excessive amounts or take high dosage supplements of it. Remember, too much of a good thing can be bad. Having too much zinc may affect copper levels (another essential mineral). And if they do not have a good copper to zinc ratio in their bodies, this may affect thyroid health, mental health and more. 

This is why we always say, “Test, don’t guess!” Enjoy your healthy life!

Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, is the founder of Proactive Health Lab. The pH professional healthcare team includes recognized experts from a variety of healthcare and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors allpH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.