As the clocks go back, cold and flu season appears to be well upon us. Is there a way of supporting your immune system against respiratory tract infections? Find out in this week’s Nutrition News covering the latest in nutritional research.

Zinc’s potential in supporting the immune system against respiratory infections

Zinc is already known to contribute to the normal function of the immune system but a recent study from researchers in Australia, as reported by WebMD, has found that zinc could play a role in helping the immune system against respiratory infections specifically.

The study, which reviewed some two dozen clinical trials, found that zinc supplementation prevented five new respiratory tract infections per 100 people per month compared to a placebo. On average, the duration of the infection was also seen to reduce, with symptoms lasting two days less in the zinc group compared to the placebo, and subjects using the zinc supplementation were twice as likely to recover from their symptoms within a week.

Given the findings, it gives even more reason to ensure we maintain optimum zinc levels throughout the winter months, when respiratory illnesses are most prevalent. However, it is important to note that the findings are based on observational data and although we know that zinc supports the immune system, it cannot prevent illness and its role in respiratory infections requires further investigation to be fully understood.

Western diet linked to cognitive decline

The Mediterranean diet, rich in fish oils and omega 3, has been associated with positive cognitive health benefits for some time. More recently, as discussed in last week’s Nutrition News article, omega 3 has been investigated for its role in reversing the negative effects of a Western diet on cognitive health and now another study has been published the further explores the link between the Western diet, rich in processed foods and fats, and poor cognitive health.

In the study, reported by Medical News Today, a Western diet is described as the Standard American Diet, which is one that includes greater volumes of food with higher calorie and fat percentages with lower nutritional value. The study suggests that the Western diet affects cognitive performance and health through increased Na,K-ATPase signalling in adipocytes, or fat cells.

In the subjects fed a Western diet, not only did body weight increase but insulin resistance, low energy and lowered oxygen levels were also observed. It also increased inflammatory cytokines, which are linked to neurovegetative diseases. Signs of behavioural changes and changes in gene expression and signalling, linked with early signs of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, were also observed in the test subjects on the Western diet.

The findings are concerning given the prevalence of the Western diet but, although more research is needed, it also provides hope that dietary changes can alter cognitive health for the better.

Could vitamin D reduce fall risk in postmenopausal women?

Vitamin D is important for a range of functions within the body including the normal function of the immune system, normal function of bones and muscles, and the normal absorption of calcium. A new study has further explored the vitamin’s role in muscle support by evaluating its potential to reduce fall risk in postmenopausal women.

The study, reported by Endocrinology Adviser, included postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 70 years old and tested the effects of supplementing with vitamin D and/or core balance exercises for eight weeks. The participants were evaluated both prior and post the eight week test on the Berg balance test (BBT) and Biodex balance system (postural stability and fall risk tests) as well as the Nottingham Health Profile (NHP) for QoL.

Following the eight weeks, a significant improvement in BBT scores was seen in test subjects with desirable vitamin D levels than those who were deficient. In conclusion, positive effects on balance were seen with the group supplemented with vitamin D and it was shown to be vital to carry out core strengthening and balance exercises to reduce the risk of falls in postmenopausal women. While the randomised, controlled, single-blind study uncovered some positive findings there were limitations including the relatively small sample size, short duration of follow up and the narrow sample size, so further research would be needed to investigate this hypothesis thoroughly.

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Alison Astill-Smith author Alison is the Founder of Metabolics who writes about Metabolics updates, events and natural healthcare. Her experience and passion for natural supplements and healthcare comes from her years of experience as a practising osteopath, having founded Metabolics in her search for high quality, natural products in her own work. Alison has been a qualified and practising Osteopath since 1981 and regularly gives seminars on a range of healthcare subjects to the wider practitioner community helping share her knowledge and experience.