When taken with a compound commonly found in chocolate, coffee, tea and wine, a new study has found that zinc works to protect the body against oxidative stress – a process thought to be involved in the ageing process and in promoting the kind of inflammation that can cause disease.

Researchers from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) in Germany and Auburn University in the United Sates discovered that zinc activates a compound in the hydroquinone groups found in polyphenols, producing a natural chain-reaction that inhibits the process of oxidative stress.

The researchers reason that a reduction in oxidative stress may result in a slowing of the aging process and a reduction in bodily inflammation which could lead to improved health and potentially, a longer life.

Oxidative stress is also thought to be a contributing factor in some cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, myocardial infarction, chronic fatigue syndrome, ADHD, Parkinson’s disease and Lafora disease.

Hydroquinone, occurring naturally in foods such as chocolate, coffee, tea and wine, cannot protect against oxidative stress on its own, however when exposed to zinc, a metal complex is created that, “…protects the body from the degradation processes caused by oxidation and (has) an antioxidative effect. In this way, the superoxide can be metabolised and damage to the organism prevented; oxidative stress is avoided.”

When considering the potential health implications, zinc has the added benefit of having very low levels of toxicity and few side effects.

Prof. Dr. Ivana Ivanovi-Burmazovi Chair of Bioinorganic Chemistry at FAU was optimistic about what the new study could mean for public health.

“It is certainly possible that wine, coffee, tea or chocolate may well become available in future with added zinc.”

However for those who enjoy the occasional crisp chardonnay or cheeky red, don’t stock up on zinc supplements just yet – the professor cautions, “… any alcohol content whatsoever would destroy the positive effects of this combination.”