Zinc is an essential mineral found in every tissue of the body. It is present in every known class of enzyme and, therefore, a player in all biochemical pathways the body undertakes. With its pervasive role, no wonder zinc has so many benefits for human health.
While only needed in trace amounts, zinc deficiency, even mild kinds, can play havoc with your health. In order to obtain the many benefits of zinc, it is important to get enough, whether through diet or zinc supplements and avoid the potential health problems of too little. Zinc is essential for growth, protein production, cell division, DNA synthesis, immune function, wound healing, bone and teeth formation, skin renewal, brain activity, proper nervous system function, and production and action of hormones including male and female sex hormones, insulin and stress hormones.
Zinc Helps Immune Function
Who is not getting enough Zinc or the Benefits of Zinc?
Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency
- Soft nails including white lines
- Stretch marks
- Pale skin
- Growth retardation
- Loss of appetite
- Impaired immune function including susceptibility to infection
- Dry Hair
- Delayed sexual development
- Low testosterone and impotence
- Eye and skin lesions
- Night blindness
- Weight loss
- Altered taste
- Morning sickness during pregnancy
- Mental lethargy and emotional disturbances including anxiety
Zinc Deficiency Diseases/Conditions — When you’re not getting the benefits of zinc
- Hypogonadism (resulting in reduced testosterone)
- Alopecia (hair loss)
- Age related macular degeneration
- Birth defects
The Benefits of Zinc are not limited to Zinc related Conditions — Other Nutrients Rely on Zinc
- Vitamin A functions better with sufficient zinc to prevent mouth ulcers, poor night vision, dry flaky skin and frequent colds.
- Vitamin B 6 (Pyrodoxine), along with zinc, helps reduce the symptoms of PMS and depression when in the presence of adequate zinc.
- Omega 3 and Omega 6 are converted, with the help of zinc, into beneficial forms that ensure these fatty acids’ anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant effects.
Benefits of Zinc — Clobbering the Common Cold with Zinc
Reasons for insufficient Zinc – and why you may not be getting all the possible benefits of zinc
- Insufficient intake of zinc via diet or poor absorption because of intestinal problems, chronic disease or the presence of other substances or drugs that prevent absorption.
- Accelerated loss of zinc through stress, alcohol, medication or other means.
- Increased need, for example, because of pregnancy, breastfeeding, exercise or illness.
Risk Factors for Zinc Deficiency That May Prevent you Enjoying the Benefits of Zinc
- Inadequate calorie intake - Zinc deficiency is widespread in parts of the world where famine and inadequate nutrition are endemic. Anorexics generally have chronically low zinc levels – a chicken and egg situation because one sign of low zinc stores is loss of appetite.
- Over-reliance on Refined and Processed Foods – Refining of whole grains routinely removes most zinc. It follows that highly processed diets are often zinc deficient.
- Alcohol – Alcohol is a double whammy when it comes to zinc. Ethanol decreases zinc absorption and increases urinary zinc excretion. This may explain why 30%-50% of alcoholics are estimated to be zinc deficient.
- Malabsorption conditions – A host of medical conditions can lead to zinc deficiency including: Ulcerative colitis and Chron’s disease, Malabsorption syndrome, Liver disease, Kidney disease, Diabetes – Zinc is needed to make, secrete and store insulin, Cancer,Chronic diarrhea, Sickle cell disease
- Vegetarian or Vegan Diet – Some of the most bio-available dietary sources of zinc are animal products, especially oysters and red meat. Plant based sources of zinc are sometimes poorly absorbed because of the presence of phytates that diminish zinc absorption. Because of these absorption issues, vegetarians may need to consume more zinc than meat eaters, either through diet or zinc supplements.
- Pregnancy and lactation – Both conditions increase substantially a woman’s need for zinc.
- Older infants who are exclusively breastfed, unless the mother consumes adequate zinc
How Much Zinc Do you Need to Achieve the Benefits of Zinc?
- 11 mg for men
- 9 mg for women
- 11 mg for pregnant women
- 12 mg for lactating women
How to Best Absorb Zinc – Zinc Cofactors/Helpers – Strategies for Maximizing Benefits of Zinc
- stomach acid (hydrochloric acid)
- Vitamins A, E, D & B6
- Magnesium, Calcium and Phosphorus.
Zinc Thieves – The Factors that Reduce the Benefits of Zinc
- Phytates in whole grains and legumes and oxalates in rhubarb and spinach bind with zinc to prevent the latter’s absorption. This is why vegans who avoid animal protein should ensure adequate zinc intake and take measures to remove phytates from legumes and whole grains by soaking beans before cooking and baking grains.
- Diuretics increase zinc excretion by as much as 60%.
- Zinc interacts with the antibiotics quinolone (Cipro) and tetracycline to inhibit the absorption of both the zinc and the drugs. To avoid reducing the effectiveness of either, take antibiotics at least 2 hours before or 4 -6 hours after zinc supplements.
- Alcohol both prevents zinc absorption and increases zinc excretion.
- Refined sugar requires zinc to metabolize, in turn, reducing zinc stores.
- Calcium and iron supplementation in excess can reduce zinc stores by acting as antagonists to zinc.
- Similarly, excess copper can deplete zinc stores. This may occur more frequently than thought, because of the ubiquitous presence of copper in multi-vitamins, birth control pills, copper IUDs, in water flowing through copper pipes, copper cook ware etc. For more on copper’s role in diminishing zinc, see Ann Louise Gittleman’s book [amazon asin=0062515942&text=Why am I always so tired? Discover How Correcting your Body's Copper Imbalance Can Keep your Body from Giving out before your Mind Does].
- Low protein intake prevents efficient zinc metabolism.
- Stress can overwork the adrenal glands that produce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and, thereby, deplete zincs stores.
- Insufficient Vitamin D can make zinc less effective.
Zinc–Rich Foods and Sources – Achieving the benefits of Zinc through zinc rich food The best food source of zinc is oysters. Indeed the oyster’s reputation as an aphrodisiac stems from it being zinc rich. Zinc is a necessary component of the male sex hormone testosterone essential for virility and responsible, when insufficient, for impotence and infertility. No wonder oysters have the reputation they do. 100 grams or 3.5 ounces of raw oysters contain approximately 90 mg of zinc! Other seafood like lobster and crab are also good sources of zinc. Fish like haddock and sole are sources too. Red meat including lamb and beef contain significant zinc. Poultry including turkey and chicken are also sources. [caption id="attachment_569963" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Roasted Pumpkin Seeds[/caption] Nuts and Seeds including pecans, almonds, brazil nuts, peanuts and pumpkin seeds are good sources. Whole grains including whole wheat, rye, oats as well as legumes like chickpeas and most beans are good sources of zinc, especially when prepared to remove phytates.
Strategies for Achieving Zinc Benefits – Eat Enough Zinc Rich Foods
- Oysters, cooked, breaded and fried, 3 ounces – 74 mg
- Beef chuck roast, braised, 3 ounces– 7 mg
- Crab, Alaska king, cooked, 3 ounces – 6.5 mg
- Beef patty, broiled, 3 ounces- 5.3 mg
- Breakfast cereal, fortified with 25% of the DV for zinc, ¾ cup - 3.8 mg
- Lobster, cooked, 3 ounces – 3.4 mg
- Pork Chop, loin, cooked, 3 ounces – 2.9 mg
- baked beans, canned, ½ cup – 2.9 mg
- Chicken, dark meat, cooked, 3 ounces – 2.4 mg
- Yogurt, fruit, low fat, 8 ounces -1.7 mg
- Cashews, dry roasted, 1 ounce – 1.6 mg
- Chickpeas, cooked, ½ cup – 1.3 mg
- Cheese, Swiss, 1 ounce - 1.2 mg
- Oatmeal, instant plain prepared with water, 1 packet – 1.1 mg
- Milk, low fat or non fat, 1 cup - `1 mg
- Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce – 0.9 mg
- Kidney beans, cooked, 1/2cup - 0.9 mg
- Chicken breast, roasted, skin removed, ½ breast - 0.9 mg
- Cheese, cheddar or mozzarella, 1 ounce – 0.9 mg
- Peas, green, frozen, cooked, ½ cup – 0.5 mg
- Flounder or sole, cooked, 3 ounces – 0.3 mg
Best Forms of Zinc Supplements to Achieve Benefits of Zinc
Cautions when taking Zinc Supplements – Ensuring you get the Benefits of Zinc and avoid the Hazards
- Loss of appetite
- Gastro-intestinal upset