April 18 (UPI) -- Researchers in Munich, Germany have identified a link between the level of zinc in the body and the risk of cardiovascular issues related to oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress occurs when more free radicals are generated in the cell than can be intercepted by antioxidants like vitamin E, and it is a predisposing factor for heart disease.
Previous research has shown that a severe lack of zinc is associated with increased cellular stress, however, such an extreme shortage is considered very rare.
Researchers at the Technical University of Munich showed the association between the total amount of zinc in the body and cardiac function.
The team monitored two antioxidants -- glutathione and vitamin E -- in young piglets. Glutathione and vitamin E disable free radicals, but vitamin E is responsible for the integrity of the cell membrane that shields the cell contents from the environment.
The piglets were deprived of nutritional zinc to varying levels for a few days to allow researchers to determine how a declining amount of zinc in the body affected the piglets' heart muscles.
Researchers found that the concentration of glutathione and vitamin E in the heart muscle declined with the level of zinc affecting the heart's ability to handle oxidative stress.
"The body was no longer able to compensate for the resulting shortage of zinc, even though our tests only ran a few days," Daniel Brugger, chair of Animal Nutrition at TUM, said in a press release. "After the first phase, during which a reduction in tissue zinc concentration was observed, the heart muscle intervened and increased the amount of zinc back to the basal [control] level. However, this increase took place at the expense of the zinc content of other organs -- above all the liver, kidneys, and the pancreas."
The study was published in the Journal of Nutrition.