Although esophageal cancer accounts for only 1 percent of all cancers diagnosed in this country, it’s the seventh most common cause of cancer deaths among men—good reason to make sure you know the symptoms of esophageal cancer. According to the American Society for Clinical Oncology, in 2016 the cancer was responsible for the deaths of about 16,000 Americans—80 percent of whom were men.

For people with the diagnosis, the chances of surviving for five years are just 18 percent. That’s the bad news, and here’s the good: Zinc may offer real protection against this deadly cancer, according to a brand new study out of the University of Texas at Arlington’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation that was published in the FASEB Journal.

The authors of the study already knew that a zinc deficiency could encourage the growth of esophageal cancer—here are some of the signs of a zinc deficiency. To figure out why, the researchers analyzed the interaction of eosphageal cancer cells and zinc. Using a technique called “fluorescence live cell imaging,” they discovered that the mineral shut down overactive calcium signals unique to these cells, preventing them from multiplying. In fact, the researchers found that zinc selectively halts the growth of cancer cells, leaving healthy cells to grow normally.

“Our study, for the first time to our knowledge, reveals that zinc impedes overactive calcium signals in cancer cells,” explained co-author and lead researcher, Zui Pan, PhD, to the News Center at the University of Texas at Arlington. Dr. Pan is an associate professor of nursing at UTA’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation and a noted esophageal cancer researcher. The link between zinc and calcium signaling will be a target for future study since low levels of the mineral have been tied to other types of cancer. In the meantime, Dr. Pan emphasizes eating a healthy diet that delivers all important nutrients; foods that are rich in zinc, in particular, include spinach, flax seeds, beef, pumpkin seeds, and seafood such as shrimp and oysters.