On Zinc Transport Dysregulation With Aging

I don't often talk about anything related to the overlap between supplements and aging. For one, that entire industry is irrelevant given the scope of regenerative medicine and rejuvenation biotechnology: the future is deliberately designed and targeted medical technologies, not the lingering remnants of past medical practices influenced by oral fixation and magical thinking. You can't fix anything of significance in human aging by digging around for found compounds to stick into your mouth - that is characteristic of the just-about-up-to-dealing-with-infections medicine of the last millennium, and the sooner this model ceases to dominate the public imagination the better.

Secondly, there are any number of vocal resources out there that talk about nothing but naturally occurring things that you can stick into your mouth. Many of them want to sell you those naturally occurring things, and of those folk a sizable contingent spend their time making loud and unsupported claims with regard to their products and human aging. Unfortunately there is so much money in that business that sense and ethics largely fled a long time ago.

Lastly, nothing you can presently buy, consume, or wear is anywhere near as effective as either exercise or calorie restriction when it comes to health over the long term. Science tells us that much, with a great weight of evidence, and anyone claiming otherwise has a tall hill indeed to climb to make any sort of a case. They try nonetheless, day in and day out, and merchant voices often outweigh those of the scientific community in our popular culture when it comes to the relationship between people, medicine, and aging.

So I don't often talk about anything related to supplements. It isn't productive. Still, occasionally research does show up to suggest that there might be meaningful benefits to some form of therapy using a common supplement or food item. It's pretty rare, however - next to nonexistent. The only one springing to mind right this instant is the evidence suggesting that the body processes the essential amino acid luceine increasingly poorly with aging. This contributes to the muscle wasting of sarcopenia, but, unlike nearly all such issues, can be staved off by adding more luceine to the diet.

Again, let me emphasize that this sort of situation is rare. It is almost never the case that a specific progressive failure in the body's biochemistry can be ameliorated by sticking more of something related to the failure into your mouth. Biology is far more complex than that - imagining that you can affect a specific portion of your biochemistry in some desired way by consuming one of the compounds involved in a reaction somewhere in the process is basically a form of magical thinking.

So that all said as a sort of preamble, let me point you to a study on zinc-related mechanisms that's presently doing the rounds, with links to the publicity release and the paper:

A new study has outlined for the first time a biological mechanism by which zinc deficiency can develop with age, leading to a decline of the immune system and increased inflammation ... The study was [based on findings in laboratory mice]. It found that zinc transporters were significantly dysregulated in old animals. They showed signs of zinc deficiency and had an enhanced inflammatory response even though their diet supposedly contained adequate amounts of zinc.

When the animals were given about 10 times their dietary requirement for zinc, the biomarkers of inflammation were restored to those of young animals.

"We've previously shown in both animal and human studies that zinc deficiency can cause DNA damage, and this new work shows how it can help lead to systemic inflammation. Some inflammation is normal, a part of immune defense, wound healing and other functions. But in excess, it's been associated with almost every degenerative disease you can think of, including cancer and heart disease. It appears to be a significant factor in the diseases that most people die from."

If a progressively disarrayed zinc metabolism does impact inflammation and immune function in a fairly general way, one would expect to see some beneficial effect on life span from suitably zinc-fortified diets. You might look at another recent paper for an example of researchers pumping extra zinc into laboratory animals to see what happens - I'm sure that there's much more out there from past decades if you care to go digging.

In any case, I note this research for its rarity rather than its potential utility. At the end of the day, how much zinc you put into your diet will not swing your life span by anywhere near as much as even a mediocre level of progress towards biotechnologies that can repair the root causes of aging. As a culture, we need to tear ourselves away from the propaganda of the supplement industry and the fascination with dietary tinkering: none of that will save lives or meaningfully deal with the fact that we're all aging to death.

Biotechnology is where we must look to the future of medicine: gene therapies, ways to precisely alter specific cellular components, targeted nanoparticles to remove senescent cells, stem cell engineering, tailored bacterial enzymes to break down unwanted intracellular waste products - these and many similar lines of research are the future and the path to living in good health for many more years than were available to our ancestors.


1. great blog post
2. "anywhere near as effective as either exercise or calorie restriction" - what about being conscientious and/or socially connected? The Longevity Project says that those give big benefits. What about castration, too?

Posted by: Kip at October 2nd, 2012 4:04 PM

Zinc supplements will probably not have a substantial impact on lifespan. But they may improve quality of life, particularly for middle age men with low free testosterone levels. I don't see that to be in any way at odds with longevity research.

Posted by: JohnD at October 2nd, 2012 8:53 PM

what about being conscientious and being socially connected?

Posted by: kip at October 4th, 2012 7:45 AM

Thoughts? I am curious to know what you think, Reason. You emphasize CR and exercise so much.

Posted by: Kip at October 4th, 2012 7:01 PM

low grade systemic inflammation is a great predictor of disease~~so..., taking curcurmin, fish oil, bozwellia~~ these all reduce inflammation (what am I missing?

Posted by: mory von werner at October 8th, 2012 7:04 AM

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