The Importance of Zinc

The Importance of Zinc

Zinc has been identified as a micronutrient that is vital to the human body in countless ways. Zinc is abundantly distributed throughout the human body, but the body is not capable of producing or storing it on its own. This makes regularly consuming foods that are high in zinc incredibly important.

Zinc is largely concentrated in the liver, pancreas, kidneys, bones, and muscles. Also, zinc can be found in high concentrations in the eyes, prostate gland, spermatozoa, skin, hair, fingernails, and toenails. Zinc is involved in many bodily processes. It is involved in more than 300 different enzymes that aid in metabolism, digestion, and nerve function. Zinc is also crucial for the development and function of immune cells and is essential to skin health, DNA synthesis, and protein production. Zinc also contributes to wound healing, has a big role in childhood growth and development, and has antioxidant properties needed to fight free radicals in your body. This micromineral is also involved in the senses of taste and smell. Zinc is crucial for proper growth and development. Zinc is an important mineral!

zinc-pills

Absorption and Secretion

Zinc absorption happens mostly in the small intestine but the major site of intestinal zinc absorption in the human body remains controversial. Zinc absorption may be affected by many factors, including the level of your zinc in the diet, and the presence of interfering substances such as copper and cadmium, which compete for the same carrier protein. High intakes of iron, calcium and folic acids can also interfere with the absorption of zinc. Intestinal diseases such as Crohn’s Disease or pancreatic insufficiency can also impact zinc absorption in the body. On the other hand, zinc absorption can be enhanced by glucose or lactose, and by soy protein consumed alone or mixed with beef. 

For normal individuals, zinc is almost entirely excreted through the feces, however, increased urinary excretion has been reported for people who are starving, or are struggling with nephrosis, diabetes, alcoholism, hepatic cirrhosis, and porphyria

foods-zinc-mineral

Recommended Dietary Allowances

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for 19+-year-old males is 11mg/day, and 8mg/day for females. The recommendation is slightly higher for pregnant and lactating women, around 11mg and 12 mg respectively. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL), the maximum intake unlikely to cause harmful effects on health, is about 40mg/day for males and females 19+years of age.

Zinc is widely distributed in foods and is especially rich in red meats, some seafood (oysters, crabs), poultry, whole grains, and some fortified breakfast cereals. Zinc is commonly found in the germ and bran parts of grains, and almost 80% of zinc is lost during milling. Therefore whole grains have more zinc than unfortified ones. 

Here are the lists of selected foods high in zinc and their content:

Zinc Content of Selected Foods

Oysters/100g

Beef/100g

Chickpeas/1 cup

Chicken Leg/100g

Firm Tofu/100g

Lean Pork Chops/100g

Oatmeal/1/2 cup

Lentils/100g

Low Fat Yogurt/100g

Shiitake Mushroom/100g 

61mg

11mg

2.5mg

2mg

2mg

2mg

1.3mg

1mg

1mg

1mg

foods-zinc-mineral

Health Benefits of Zinc

As mentioned previously, zinc has some health benefits. For example:

Improves Immune System: The immune system, a complex network of cells where the body fights against infections, is vital for human survival. Your immune system is responsible for keeping your body healthy as you navigate a sea of different pathogens. Zinc is necessary for immune cell function and cell signaling to help keep your system strong. A zinc deficiency can result in a weak immune response. 

Lowers the Risk of Inflammation: Zinc can lower oxidative stress and reduce some levels of inflammatory proteins in the body. Oxidative stress is the imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body which leads to chronic inflammation and other chronic illnesses. Zinc participates in the synthesis of antioxidant enzymes and acts as a catalyzer of enzymes, taking part in lipid, carbohydrates, and protein metabolism.

tipped-over-bottle-zinc

Wound Healer: Zinc is involved in cell division, DNA and protein synthesis, and collagen formation, which are all processes involved in tissue restoration and wound repair. In hospitals, zinc is commonly used in treating burns, certain ulcers, and other skin injuries. Our skin holds about 5% of our body’s zinc content. 

Diarrhea Treatment: Zinc supplements are recommended for children with diarrhea (World Health Organization). Zinc restores the mucosal barrier and promotes the production of antibodies against intestinal pathogens.

vitamin-c-zinc

Fights Acne: Acne is an obstruction of oil-producing glands that promotes bacteria and causes inflammation. Studies have shown that zinc can kill bacteria, especially acne-causing bacteria (Cutibacterium and Propionibacterium) that invade the pores. Zinc has natural antimicrobial properties that can slowly kill off acne-causing bacteria with fewer potential side effects.

Delays the Progression of Certain Age-Related Diseases: The risk of developing age-related diseases like pneumonia, infections, and age-macular degeneration is notably reduced with the help of zinc. As we all know now, zinc plays a vital role in the immune response, cell regeneration, and decreasing oxidative stress in the body, which also helps protect the body from infection. 

Sexual Health: Zinc plays a role in antioxidant and hormone balancing, which benefits the reproductive health of both sexes. Research has shown that zinc can increase testosterone and aid in the production of sperm in men. It also helps regulate the production of estrogen and progesterone in women. However, too much zinc will lead to toxicity, which is also harmful to sperm. If you are considering zinc supplementation as additional sexual support, talk to a healthcare professional first.

zinc-pills-out-bottle

Antioxidant Properties: Scientists believe that oxidative stress and chronic diseases are connected. These chronic diseases include diabetes, high blood pressure, and other metabolic syndromes. Zinc has antioxidant properties that may help fight against oxidative stress and help prevent these metabolic diseases. However, further studies are still needed to support these claims.

It’s important to note that zinc deficiencies do exist but are somewhat rare. Deficiencies are most often found in individuals with digestive disorders like inflammatory bowel disease or those suffering from rare genetic mutations or alcohol addictions. Taking certain immune-suppressing medications can also impact your zinc absorption. Zinc deficiencies are also common in those with poor nutrition, malabsorption, and chronic illnesses such as liver and kidney diseases, cancer, and diabetes. You should also be aware of following any gastrointestinal surgery.

zinc-drop-pill-capsule

Complications

If left untreated, a zinc deficiency can eventually result in an increased risk of the following:

  • Delayed growth and development in children
  • Fertility problems
  • Loss of appetite or change of taste
  • Diarrhea
  • A higher risk of infections
  • Problems with thinking
  • Eye and skin lesions
  • Immune deficiencies

Zinc toxicity is rare with food consumption. Rather, excessive intake of zinc most often occurs with supplements. Signs of toxicity may include:

  • Poor appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headaches 

food-zinc-lowers-cholesterol

Zinc can significantly affect your overall health as it comprises almost all vital functions needed for enzymatic reactions, immune response, nerve functions, cell division, cell growth, gene expression, and protein and DNA synthesis. This powerful micronutrient should not be taken for granted. Thankfully, a nutritious diet alone can easily provide the zinc needed to support optimal health. A doctor may prescribe supplementation only if there is a risk of deficiency. 

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