Zinc is a mineral essential to health. After iron, this micronutrient is the most abundant trace mineral found in our bodies.
As an important nutrient, zinc helps us maintain optimal health and well-being.
Functions of Zinc in the Body
Zinc helps with tissue growth and repair, bone strength, skin health, and wound healing. Zinc is necessary for normal brain and nervous system development and function.
It plays a vital role in the function of more than 300 hormones and enzymes. Zinc is even a key part of one of our most crucial internal antioxidant systems. Known as copper/zinc superoxide dismutase, this enzyme system has been linked to healthy aging and protection from excess free radicals.
Another area where zinc really shines is its ability to promote healthy immune function.
Individuals deficient in zinc demonstrate diminished antibody production, impairment of immune cell function, and decreased activity of the thymus gland, which is important in immune health. Research suggests that even marginal zinc insufficiency can reduce immune function.
Zinc insufficiency also lowers the body’s ability to regulate inflammatory balance. Scientists found that zinc helps regulate COX-2 enzymes involved in pain and inflammation.
Are You Getting Enough Zinc?
Serious zinc deficiency is common in developing countries, especially in children.
While most Americans gain sufficient zinc from the foods they consume, many others may have difficulty meeting their needs for zinc:
- Older adults (60+) are vulnerable. The government NHANES 111 survey found that 35-45% of adults 60 or over had zinc intakes under the daily estimated average requirement.
- People taking certain medications can have a diminished ability to absorb zinc or increase excretion of zinc in the urine
- Vegetarians’ need for zinc may be 50% greater. Plant foods such as grains, seeds, and legumes contain phytates, compounds which lower ability to absorb zinc and other minerals.
- People suffering from digestive or bowel concerns may come up short on zinc.
- People who over-consume alcohol might not be getting enough zinc.
Problems Related to Zinc Insufficiency
Becoming deficient in zinc can cause a number of issues:
- Hair loss
- Loss of appetite
- White spots on fingernails
- Diminished ability to taste or smell
- Sores on the skin
- Lack of energy
- Memory or mood issues
Promising Zinc Research
Zinc has been found to help with the storage and processing of insulin in the body, which means it helps promote healthy blood sugar levels.
In 2014, researchers from Northwestern published a startling finding in the journal Nature Chemistry. These researchers discovered that in the eggs of mammals, zinc is stored in little packets below the surface of the cells. During fertilization, these packages are released in waves they referred to as “zinc sparks.” Scientists, who were able to videotape these sparks, believe they could identify the most viable eggs, and even help women who are having trouble trying to conceive.
Zinc-Containing Foods and Supplements to Support Health
Fortunately, many foods contain high amounts of zinc. Here are some of the best sources:
- Oysters and other shellfish
- Meat and poultry
- Nuts and beans
- Hard cheeses and eggs
- Pumpkin seeds
When it comes to supplements, zinc can be found in nearly all multivitamin or multi-mineral supplements.
Zinc supplements can be used alone or in combination with other ingredients such as magnesium, calcium, or comprehensive targeted supplements. Different forms of zinc include zinc gluconate, zinc acetate. and zinc sulfate.
As a note of caution, zinc may interfere with certain drugs so it’s good to check in with your doctor before using. Too much zinc can also interfere with copper uptake in the body. So this is not a mineral to take in high doses without consideration of its pluses and minuses. The RDA or recommended daily allowance for zinc in adults is 11 mg/day in men and 8 mg/day in women.