Abstract Zinc is essential for the immune system and elderly people have an increased probability for zinc deficiency, documented by a decline of serum or plasma zinc levels with age. Although most healthy elderly are not classified as clinically zinc deficient, even marginal zinc deprivation can affect immune function. Several striking similarities in the immunological changes during aging and zinc deficiency, including a reduction in the activity of the thymus and thymic hormones, a shift of the T helper cell balance towards TH2, decreased response to vaccination, and impaired functions of innae immune cells indicate that a wide prevalence of marginal zinc deficiency in elderly people may contribute to immunosenescence.
Studies with oral zinc supplementation show the potential to improve the immune response of elderly people by restoration of the zinc levels, showing that balancing the zinc status may be a way to healthy aging. This review summarizes the current literature about zinc supplementation in the elderly and thereby defines the rationale for the immunological part of the ZINCAGE project.