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Elderly adults, especially those living in nursing homes, often have impaired immune function, which increases their susceptibility to respiratory infections and subsequent pneumonia. A 2007 study found that higher zinc status among elderly nursing home patients was associated with reduced incidence and duration of pneumonia.

Zinc is an essential mineral that plays critical roles in modulating the body’s immune response. It influences T-cell activity, cytokine production, and phagocytosis. Zinc deficiency is associated with poor immune function.

The observational study involved nearly 600 nursing home residents living in 33 facilities across the Boston, Massachusetts area. The participants were part of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled vitamin E supplementation trial in which they received a multivitamin supplement providing 50 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of vitamins and minerals, including zinc, daily for one year. The authors of the study measured the participants' baseline and final plasma zinc levels and categorized them as low (less than 70 mcg/dL) or normal (greater than or equal to 70 mcg/dL). They also tracked the incidence and duration of pneumonia as well as other measures associated with the illness, such as the number of new antibiotic prescriptions, duration of antibiotic use, and death due to pneumonia or other causes.

The results of the study revealed that nursing home residents whose plasma zinc levels were normal were more than 50 percent less likely to develop pneumonia. If they did develop pneumonia, they recovered sooner and typically required half as many antibiotic prescriptions. The number of deaths from all causes was 30 percent lower among those with normal zinc levels, as well.

These findings underscore the need for maintaining optimal zinc levels in elderly patients, especially those living in nursing homes, and suggests that supplemental zinc is beneficial in reducing the risk and severity of pneumonia.

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