In an ideal situation, you and I wouldn’t have to speak about zinc and selenium to boost immunity. This is because a balanced, unprocessed, traditional diet, along with an overall healthy lifestyle, is enough to provide every macro and micronutrient needed for our immune functions.
However, the kind of lifestyles we are living today, the processed food we eat, the stress we put our mind and bodies through, and the massive amount of damage we do to our gut because of it, have left us malnourished.
This is not only limited to the rural population but highly prevalent in urban cities too. Thus, highlighting the importance of zinc and selenium becomes important.
These are two power micronutrients that feed not only immunity but skin, hair, hormones, gut health, fertility, the thyroid gland and a lot much, at the cellular level.
Although focusing on a well-rounded diet with nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, lentils, pulses, legumes and cereals can provide enough of both nutrients, it becomes all the more necessary to boost immunity in cases of immunocompromised individuals and cases of cancer where the immunity is anyway low and treatments like chemotherapy and radiation deplete it further.
The beauty of these minerals is that they are not required in huge quantities, but traces. Yet, they’re very important for multiple functions.
Zinc: Your body desires very small quantities of it. However, when you start understanding what a deficiency of zinc can do to your body, you begin correlating reasons as to why your immunity is low, inflammation is high, fat loss is a struggle and hormones are imbalanced. Research shows that a deficiency of zinc causes decreased T-cell (an immune cell) function and antibody responses, and if the zinc deficiency is corrected, immune status is restored. The nutrient plays a necessary role in activating enzymes that are necessary for cell division and maturation of immune cells.
Another interesting fact is that zinc and copper are antagonistic with one another, meaning a deficiency of zinc can lead to rise in levels of copper and conversely, an excess of zinc can lead to a deficiency of copper.
Selenium: Diseases from thyroid to diabetes usually have a depletion of selenium, and sometimes, just boosting levels of selenium can help one handle these better. One of the functions of selenium is that it forms the architecture of your cells. It also can latch onto heavy metals like cadmium and remove it from the body, and works as a fantastic antioxidant. Selenium deficiency is known to impair antibody production in the body. Best sources for selenium are nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds, watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds and walnuts.
Additionally, one can get enough zinc and selenium through natural sources, but in certain cases where immunity has taken a hit, one may need a high-quality supplement. The best sources are pumpkin seeds and oysters.
It is also found in lima beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, pine nuts, peanuts, cashew, almonds and seeds-pumpkin, cacao, wheat germ, spinach, milk and yoghurt, mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli, and zucchini. Other good sources are Brazil nuts, mushrooms (especially Shiitake).
It is also present in dark chocolate, fish especially salmon and tuna, antibiotic- and hormone-free eggs, asparagus, sunflower seeds, mustard, garlic, rice, puffed wheat, spinach, oatmeal, cashew nuts, bananas and peaches.
The author is a Mumbai-based holistic lifestyle coach—Integrative Medicine