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Zinc in Human Health and Infectious Diseases

During the last few decades, the micronutrient zinc has proven to be an important metal ion for a well-functioning immune system, and thus also for a suitable immune defense. Nowadays, it is known that the main cause of zinc deficiency is malnutrition. In particular, vulnerable populations, such as the elderly in Western countries and children in developing countries, are often affected. However, sufficient zinc intake and homeostasis is essential for a healthy life, as it is known that zinc deficiency is associated with a multitude of immune disorders such as metabolic and chronic diseases, as well as infectious diseases such as respiratory infections, malaria, HIV, or tuberculosis. Moreover, the modulation of the proinflammatory immune response and oxidative stress is well described. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of zinc have been known for a long time, but are not comprehensively researched and understood yet. Therefore, this review highlights the current molecular mechanisms underlying the development of a pro-/ and anti-inflammatory immune response as a result of zinc deficiency and zinc supplementation. Additionally, we emphasize the potential of zinc as a preventive and therapeutic agent, alone or in combination with other strategies, that could ameliorate infectious diseases.

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