Zinc is an essential trace element important for cell function, including cell growth, repair, division, differentiation, and activation. It also plays a role in DNA synthesis and RNA transcription.
Many people are familiar with zinc due to its popularity in fighting the common cold and flu. Zinc’s success here lies in its anti-viral and immune boosting properties, yet its healing benefits and importance to the health of the human body go far beyond fighting a seasonal cold.
Zinc’s involvement in over 300 enzyme processes helps explain why even the slightest deficiency can cause substantial negative effects on ones health in such areas as immunity, vision, reproduction, mental state, and skin and liver health.
Zinc is a vital component of healthy immune function and proper growth and development. Crucial bodily functions such as blood clotting, thyroid function, proper digestion of proteins, and balancing of blood sugar all rely on sufficient zinc levels. Zinc is also necessary for cleansing the liver, repairing tissue, and oxygenating the body.
Zinc levels are found in highest concentrations in the skeletal muscles and bones, eyes, hair, skin, prostate, pancreas, liver, and kidneys. Zinc, along with magnesium and Vitamin D, are commonly overlooked deficiencies that can wreck havoc on your health.
Signs of zinc deficiency
- Appetite loss
- Cognitive difficulties
- Stunted growth
- Slow wound healing
- Frequent colds and flu
- Hair loss
- Rough dry skin
- Brittle thin nails, or nails with small white spots
- Poor sense of taste and smell
- Impaired memory
- Poor night vision
- High cholesterol
- Prostate issues
Zinc Health Benefits
Supports proper growth and development (including sexual maturation)
Zinc is an important mineral for the proper growth and development of the human body during infancy, childhood, adolescence, and even pregnancy. Zinc is necessary for the proper development of the structural system, reproductive organs, and cognitive and motor skills.
Zinc plays an important role in prostate gland function, and deficiency in this vital element is connected to most male reproductive and prostate issues. Zinc deficiency is most often part, if not the entire cause, of such conditions as: enlarged prostrate, prostatitis, prostate cancer, infertility issues, and hormone related issues such as low testosterone. Supplementation, in the right quantities, can prove beneficial in many cases. Yet too much zinc, although rare, can have an undesired affect.
Maintains and restores healthy hair, skin, and eyes
Zinc deficiency is directly linked to skin issues such as acne, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, boils, and varicose veins. Supplementing with zinc and in some cases applying zinc to the skin directly can alleviate some skin disorders.
Zinc is necessary for collagen formation therefore sufficient levels are needed to maintain or restore healthy skin, hair, and nails. In fact, white spots on the fingernails are a sign of zinc deficiency.
Zinc is known to be important for good vision in part signified by the high concentrations of zinc found in the ocular tissue, particularly the retina. There is evidence that proper zinc levels can help protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss. The Age-Related Disease Study (AREDS) reported that the high-risk participants lowered their risk by approximately 25% when treated with appropriate antioxidants and zinc supplementation.
Strengthens immunity and improves wound healing
Zinc’s active role in cell function, including T-cell activation, makes it a vital mineral for remaining disease-free as it strengthens the body’s ability to ward of negative pathogens. Oral zinc supplementation (zinc chelate or sulfate) as well as topical application (zinc oxide) has been noted to speed wound healing. Zinc is also noted to reduce the recovery time of injury and illness.
Improves mood and mental state
Zinc is found in high concentrations in the brain area of the hippocampus, that which is responsible for memory and mood. Zinc behaves much like a neurotransmitter, therefore many medical researchers consider it such. Low zinc levels may inhibit neuron activity, contributing to abnormal behavior such as bursts of anger, irritability, or more extreme behaviors.
Statistically, there is a high occurrence of zinc deficiency present in those who suffer from such disorders as ADD, autism, hyperactivity, depression, eating disorders, bipolar conditions, schizophrenia, and alzheimer’s. In fact, research supports that zinc deficiency can lead to “symptoms of depression, ADHD, difficulties with learning and memory, seizures, aggression, and violence.”
Assuring proper zinc levels through food choices or supplementation may prove an important step in improving ones’ mental state, including nervousness, anxiety, depression, and even in the above mentioned mental conditions.
Few people realize the important role zinc plays in maintaining a healthy digestive tract and stimulating proper digestion. Zinc is active in the production of digestive enzymes which assures the effective processing of nutrients. It is also necessary for the renewal of intestinal tissue and the bile production crucial to healthy digestion.
Treats and protects against diabetes & cancer
Zinc’s role in insulin production makes it a great preventative against diabetes. Similarly, zinc is frequently deficient in diabetics and increasing zinc levels through food choices and supplementation has proved effective in alleviating the condition.
Zinc improves immune function and acts as an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, all which are highly beneficial in the treatment and prevention of cancer. Oxidative stress and inflammation are common implications of cancer as is zinc deficiency common to cancer patients. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20155630
Reduces inflammation & chronic disease, including age-related illness
Zinc is well noted for its anti-inflammatory properties and deficiency in this essential mineral is commonly recorded in individuals suffering from inflammation. Zinc deficiency creates immune dysfunction which leads to inflammation, often systemically.
Inflammation is present in most chronic disease as well as most age-related illness. Deficiency of essential vitamins and minerals is most often the cause of inflammatory disease processes of persons at any age. Especially as the body ages, it becomes less capable of maintaining proper levels of crucial vitamins and minerals, such as zinc, thus making deficiency a top consideration in alleviating any illness.
The best source of vitamins and minerals is always food. The following is a list of some of the highest zinc content foods: oysters, legumes (soaked: lentils, peas, lima, garbanzo, and kidney beans), organic animal meats, preferably local (particularly beef, lamb, and poultry), fish, egg yolks, nuts (soaked: almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, and brazil nuts), seeds (soaked: pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds), brewer’s yeast, seaweed (dulse and kelp), buckwheat, quinoa, asparagus and brussels sprouts. Soaking beans, seeds, and nuts will also increase the bioavailability of its nutrients, including zinc.
When taking a supplemental form, zinc chelate has the greatest votes for overall absorbability and effectiveness, zinc sulfate is popular in treating many conditions, and zinc oxide seems to be the preferred treatment for skin conditions and wounds.
Recommended Dietary Allowance
The RDA of vitamins/minerals varies by gender, age, and other factors such as pregnancy, illness, or overall state of health. Below is a general guideline from the U.S. National Library of Medicine. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002416.htm
- 0 – 6 months: 2* milligrams per day (mg/day)
- 7 – 12 months: 3* mg/day
*Adequate Intake (AI)
- 1 – 3 years: 3 mg/day
- 4 – 8 years: 5 mg/day
- 9 – 13 years: 8 mg/day
Adolescents and Adults
- Males age 14 and over: 11 mg/day
- Females age 14 to 18 years: 9 mg/day
- Females age 19 and over: 8 mg/day
The above RDA of zinc is a guideline. Often the stated RDA levels of vitamins and minerals are later discovered to be higher than what researchers had priorly believed, and in many cases inadequate.
While there is potential reason for caution in the over-supplementation of zinc, with some studies showing heightened zinc levels can cause disease in the same body systems it’s noted to assist, there are simultaneously numerous reputable studies indicating success with supplementation at high dosages (Mayo clinic below). This is due, in part, to the fact that we absorb minimal amounts of the supplements we ingest.
This is why food should always be your first source of nutrition, and your first choice for medicine. Do your research and learn to listen to your body. This is the best way to become truly and ultimately responsible for your health—which you are regardless—whether you realize it or not.
Sources for this article include:
(supplemental dosages for health conditions outlined)
(American Journal of Clinical Nutrition)