Modulating the immune response by oral zinc supplementation: a single approach for multiple diseases

Arch Immunol Ther Exp (Warsz). Jan-Feb 2008;56(1):15-30. doi: 10.1007/s00005-008-0003-8. Epub 2008 Feb 5.


Zinc is required for multiple cellular tasks, and especially the immune system depends on a sufficient availability of this essential trace element. During the last decades, many studies attempted to affect the outcome of various diseases by zinc supplementation. These efforts either aimed at supporting immunity by zinc administration or at correcting a loss of zinc secondary to the disease to restore the zinc-dependent functions of the immune system. This review aims to summarize the respective findings and to discuss possible molecular mechanisms by which zinc could influence viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections, autoimmune diseases, and the response to vaccination. Zinc supplementation in diseases such as diarrhea, chronic hepatitis C, shigellosis, leprosy, tuberculosis, pneumonia, acute lower respiratory infection, and leishmaniasis seems beneficial. In contrast, the results for the common cold and malaria are still not conclusive, and zinc was ineffective in most vaccination and rheumatoid arthritis studies. For AIDS and type 1 diabetes, zinc supplementation may even be a risk factor for increased mortality or deterioration of the glucose metabolism, respectively. In these cases, zinc supplementation should be used with care and limited to clearly zinc-deficient individuals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / metabolism
  • Biological Availability
  • Communicable Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Communicable Diseases / immunology*
  • Communicable Diseases / metabolism
  • Dietary Supplements / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Immunity / drug effects*
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use
  • Inflammation
  • Inflammation Mediators / agonists
  • Inflammation Mediators / immunology
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / agonists
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / immunology
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Vaccination
  • Zinc Compounds / administration & dosage
  • Zinc Compounds / adverse effects
  • Zinc Compounds / metabolism
  • Zinc Compounds / therapeutic use
  • Zinc* / administration & dosage
  • Zinc* / adverse effects
  • Zinc* / metabolism
  • Zinc* / therapeutic use


  • Immunologic Factors
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Zinc Compounds
  • Zinc