Zinc and Health – A Deeper Look

Zinc and Health – A Deeper Look

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What is Zinc?

Zinc is an essential trace element which is needed in more than 300 enzymatic reactions. Zinc is the second-most-abundant and probably the second-most-important trace mineral in our body; iron being the first. The only way for you to reap the benefits of zinc is by consuming it through food. Hence, it is considered essential because it is involved in several important bodily functions yet our body’s sole source of it is food. Furthermore, the body does not store excess zinc which means you need to consume this mineral on a daily basis. Fortunately, only a small amount of zinc is needed to maintain health.

There’s a good reason as to why you need zinc in order to maintain health. Zinc is involved in several biochemical reactions needed for the maintenance and proper functioning of several organ systems such as the reproductive system, central nervous system, skeletal system, integumentary system, gastrointestinal system, and the immune system. Aside from this, normal metabolism is impossible without zinc.

The immune system and zinc

Within the bone marrow, there are immature cells that, when needed, would grow in number and mature into various blood cells such as red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Zinc benefits the white blood cells as this trace mineral supports the cells’ proliferation and maturation. At a certain point in the maturation of white blood cells, they will diverge into different types capable of carrying out different functions such as capturing and destroying pathogens, creating antibodies, and regulating the immune response.

Regulation of the immune response also involves the regulation of inflammation. Which means zinc is also capable of regulating inflammatory processes.

Zinc and its other functions

Since zinc is needed in the production of DNA and protein then it is also important for proper development and growth. This essential mineral is crucial to the unborn so the mother must take in more of this mineral to cater to her baby’s needs. Once the child is born, the mother must still take in a lot of zinc so that she could provide zinc to her newborn baby through breastfeeding. Once the child is old enough to consume solid foods, they must still consume a lot of zinc because their fast-developing-bodies need this mineral.

Wound healing involves the proliferation of cells to close-off the injury. In this situation, zinc is also important because it is responsible for creating protein and DNA.

Our senses are also dependent on zinc; specifically the sense of taste, smell, and sight. In fact, there is a high concentration of zinc in our very eyes. Zinc deficiency would lead to poor vision, impaired sense of smell, and a weakened sense of taste.

Health benefits of Zinc

Health benefits of Zinc - The Giving Nature

1. Infection Resistance

As mentioned previously, zinc is involved in the proliferation and maturation of white blood cells, and in the regulation of immune function. This means that when you have sufficient zinc in your system, your body can respond to threats efficiently. The National Institute of Health stated that when zinc is insufficient, immune function is weakened. This shows that there is a direct and strong relationship between zinc levels and the efficacy of our immune system.

But why is this so?

First of all, zinc is needed in several pathogen-eliminating signal transduction pathways. This fancy-sounding process is needed for proper inflammation control and for preventing unintentional damage to tissues. Basically, this mineral helps in maintaining balance in the body’s immune system.

2. Zinc’s benefits for men – fertility

Did you know that semen contains a lot of zinc?

First of all, the male reproductive glands are designed to add zinc to the semen to provide nutrition to the sperm cells.

Secondly, the male reproductive glands contain a lot of zinc. This mineral is needed for maintaining serum testosterone levels, so it’s only natural that the male reproductive glands would contain a lot of them.

This relationship between zinc and serum testosterone levels was demonstrated in a study conducted by Wayne University’s Department of Internal Medicine. In this study, they purposefully restricted the participant’s zinc intake for 20 weeks and measured the testosterone concentration in their participant’s blood. After 20 weeks, they gave zinc supplements and measured the participant’s testosterone concentration again. Results of the studies showed that most of the participants exhibited increased testosterone levels when they were given zinc supplements. Furthermore, other studies have shown that sperm quality is dependent on zinc.

Testosterone levels affect a guy’s libido, fertility, and sexual performance. The reason behind this has to do with zinc’s role in maintaining testosterone levels.

3. Zinc’s benefits on Skin – Wound Healing and more

Although zinc is not actually stored in the human body. Some of them are held briefly by the skin cells. As mentioned previously, zinc plays an important role in protein and DNA synthesis. Skin cells need to constantly synthesize DNA and protein because our skin needs to constantly replenish its protective layers. These features, the presence of zinc within skin cells and the skin cells ability to proliferate, is beneficial for wound healing. Since our skin can rapidly create new cells, with the help of zinc facilitating protein and DNA synthesis, wounds would heal at a faster rate.

Aside from wound healing, there are other dermatological benefits of zinc such as collagen production. Collagen is important to the skin as it is the main building block of skin cells. Increased production of collagen brought about by sufficient zinc intake leads to faster healing of wounds, burns, ulcers, and other types of skin damage. Aside from this, sufficient collagen makes your skin look better.

A 2019 report revealed that any abnormalities in how our body processes zinc would lead to the manifestation of skin disorders. This further strengthens the connection between zinc status and dermatological health.

Zinc’s ability to boost a person’s immune system provides the added benefit of infection prevention. This is important because when the skin is breached, like in ulcers and wounds, it is vulnerable to infection.

4. Zinc is an Antioxidant

Want to slow down the ageing process? Simple, just eat foods that contain zinc.

A study published by researchers from the University of Michigan’s School of Medicine showed that zinc supplements were able to reduce free radicals in their participants’ blood. The opposite was true for those who were not given zinc supplements. These results support the idea that zinc is an antioxidant. Most of us know by now that antioxidants are capable of slowing down the ageing process. Aside from these findings, the researchers also observed improvements with regards to illness-related side effects and infections among those who received zinc supplements.

Aside from its antioxidant properties, another health benefit of zinc affects cell division. Studies have shown that zinc is capable of improving cell division in such a way that cancerous cell mutations are prevented.

5. Benefits of zinc on Cardiovascular health

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of zinc work wonders for our blood vessels. The thin layer of cells that forms the first inner layer of our blood vessels, the endothelium, are healthier and functions better when zinc is present in adequate amounts. When the endothelium is functioning properly, blood flow is improved. This leads to better heart health because the heart wouldn’t need to compensate for the poor blood flow and be burdened by it. 

6. Benefits of zinc on Eye health

There are a lot of things in our body that would deteriorate as we age, even our most important sensory organ, our eyes. The deterioration of vision due to age is referred to as Age-related Macular Degeneration or AMD. This is an unavoidable part of ageing. However, AMD can be slowed down through sufficient zinc intake.

7. Zinc promotes proper Gastrointestinal function

Although zinc is not involved in the digestion of proteins and amino acids, it is, however, important in the process of synthesizing proteins from amino acids. Furthermore, zinc is involved in the process of breaking down our foods’ carbohydrates.

8. Health benefits of Zinc on our Liver

Zinc’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are the main star when it comes to its positive effects on our liver. Liver cells are healthier when there is less exposure to free radicals and when the frequency of inflammation is reduced. As an added bonus, since zinc improves immune function, infections that may damage the liver are less likely to occur.

9. Zinc aids in Muscle Repair and Growth

Like our skin, our muscle tends to experience a lot of damage. As mentioned previously, zinc promotes healing by improving DNA and protein synthesis; a property which makes zinc beneficial for our muscles. Aside from this, zinc has the added benefit of hormone regulation, specifically testosterone. When we have enough testosterone in our body, muscle mass tends to increase faster.

Zinc is beneficial for…

Zinc is beneficial - The Giving Nature

1. Common Colds

Lozenges containing zinc gluconate or zinc acetate are readily available in the market. Zinc, when taken orally, seems to reduce the duration of colds. Furthermore, if you were to take zinc supplements daily for about five months, you are less likely to catch colds.

Studies have shown that zinc supplements, when administered within 24 hours of the appearance of symptoms, are capable of reducing the duration of cold symptoms. Further research on the topic revealed that the mechanisms behind this zinc benefit have to do with this mineral’s electrical charge. Zinc ions are capable of sticking to the receptors found in nasal cells. Once the zinc is attached, they prevent viruses from attaching and entering the cells.

At this point, further research is needed before zinc would be recognized as a definitive treatment for colds. Despite this, health experts would still recommend sufficient zinc intake, or even zinc supplements, to prevent diseases in general.

2. Acne

One of zinc’s benefits on skin is acne prevention and treatment. Oral intake of zinc seems to help with acne treatment. However, the reason as to why is still unknown. Most researchers would say that the anti-inflammatory properties of zinc may be responsible for zinc’s ability to treat acne. Furthermore, zinc is a good alternative to most acne treatments because it is cheaper and has fewer side effects.

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3. Warts

Aside from acne prevention, another health benefit of zinc on the skin is warts prevention and treatment. Topical application of zinc oxide ointments is effective at curing common warts. Oral intake of zinc is also effective at treating warts, with the added benefit of preventing them.

4. Vitamin A deficiency

Although health experts do not know why, zinc seems to improve the absorption of vitamin A as vitamin A levels would rise quickly when they are taken with zinc.

5. Wilson disease

‘Wilson disease’ is a condition wherein the organs of the afflicted individual would absorb too much copper which would eventually lead to organ damage. Zinc has the ability to regulate how much copper is absorbed. Additionally, this mineral has the ability to increase copper release. Both of these properties are beneficial for treating Wilson disease.

6. Diarrhoea

Zinc intake has been shown to reduce the severity of diarrhoea as well as the duration of the symptoms. On top of this, giving zinc to pregnant women would significantly reduce the likelihood of diarrhoea in their newborn baby.

7. Shigella infection or Shigellosis

One of the primary symptoms of shigellosis is diarrhoea. Since zinc intake can reduce the duration and severity of diarrhoea, then this mineral would work wonders for Shigella infections.

8. Age-related Macular Degeneration

As mentioned previously, zinc is important for maintaining the quality of our sense of sight. Zinc has been shown to be capable of preventing age-related vision loss even in those who have the genetic predisposition of acquiring AMD early. It is unclear if other antioxidants, vitamins and minerals would have the same effect. However, supplements containing zinc alone have been shown to exert this vision-protective property.

9. Psychological Conditions

The health benefits of zinc is not limited to physical illnesses but extend to psychological conditions as well. Zinc is capable of improving the condition of those who have major depression and are not responsive to conventional treatment. Strangely enough, zinc is ineffective for those who have major depression but are responsive to conventional antidepressants. These findings suggest that zinc levels may influence a person’s psychological condition.

Aside from depression, zinc may be beneficial for those who have the eating disorder ‘anorexia nervosa’. Afflicted patients have shown improvements in both weight and mood upon zinc supplementation.

There seems to be a link between Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder or ADHD and zinc deficiency. Some children who have low zinc levels have ADHD as well. Zinc supplementation would often correct the low zinc levels and improve behaviour in these children.

10. Diabetes

Zinc seems to play a role in carbohydrate digestion. This mineral has been shown to increase insulin levels, insulin sensitivity, and improve cholesterol in those people who have type 2 diabetes.

Zinc is greatly beneficial to those who have type 2 diabetes and are obese or overweight. This mineral seems to aid in weight loss on top of improving insulin levels and insulin sensitivity.

Furthermore, zinc is also capable of preventing gestational diabetes, a kind of diabetes that occurs as a consequence of pregnancy.

11. Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition wherein the bones of the person affected becomes weak and brittle. This condition is more common in women than in men. Food supplements that contain zinc, copper, manganese, and calcium are most effective in preventing bone loss compared to other food supplements which may lack one or two of the aforementioned minerals.

12. Venous Leg Ulcers

Venous leg ulcer is a condition wherein poor blood circulation in the leg results in increased pressure in the area which damages the surrounding skin and nearby capillaries. The skin in the affected area would then become brittle and if left untreated may progress to ulcers that do not heal. Zinc benefits those who have leg ulcers by improving blood circulation in the leg. As mentioned previously, zinc improves circulation throughout the body by keeping the cells that cover the insides of blood vessels healthy. If ulceration does occur, zinc can improve wound healing and prevent infection in the broken skin.

Studies regarding Zinc and COVID-19

Previous studies have shown that Zinc is able to support anti-viral immunity as well as regulate inflammation. These benefits of zinc caught the attention of researchers who were trying to look for viable treatments for COVID-19. Findings from a recent systematic review about Zinc and COVID-19 showed that zinc may improve a person’s resistance against COVID-19. Furthermore, a different research paper claimed that more recoveries and fewer deaths were observed among patients who received zinc and hydroxychloroquine compared to those patients who received hydroxychloroquine alone.

Despite this, further research is required before treatment with hydroxychloroquine and zinc for COVID-19 would be approved for clinical practice. The researches themselves mentioned that although their results were promising, there’s simply not enough data to make a definitive conclusion.

Furthermore, the Food and Drug Administration has released an advisory regarding the usage of hydroxychloroquine and zinc as desperate people may misuse them.

Ultimately, the benefits of zinc are just a part of a whole. Although this mineral may aid with airway infections such as the colds, we cannot say for sure if it can treat COVID-19. For now, proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle is key to preventing COVID-19.

Even still, Zinc is an important mineral that we should know more about.

Zinc deficiency

Zinc deficiency - The Giving Nature

How much Zinc do I need to avoid deficiency?

The recommended daily intake of zinc is dependent on age and sex.

  • Newborns (6 months and below) – 2 mg
  • Infants (7-12 months) – 3 mg
  • Children (1-3 years) – 3 mg
  • Children (4-8 years) – 5 mg
  • Children (9-13 years) – 8 mg
  • Male teens (14-18 years) – 11 mg
  • Female teens (14-18 years) – 9 mg
  • Pregnant teens – 12 mg
  • Breastfeeding teens – 13 mg
  • Adult males (19 and up) – 11 mg
  • Adult females (19 and up) – 8 mg
  • Pregnant adult females – 11 mg
  • Breastfeeding adult females – 12 mg

These amounts are relatively small. Meeting your recommended daily intake would confer all of the benefits that come with sufficient zinc intake. Nowadays, zinc deficiency is uncommon.

Who’s predisposed to Zinc Deficiency

  • Just like iron, gastrointestinal conditions that would affect absorption would make an individual susceptible to zinc deficiency. Remember, zinc is an essential trace element. Meaning the body must obtain this mineral from food.
  • Conditions that increase the rate of zinc elimination would also make an individual susceptible to deficiency.
  • Following a vegetarian diet would also make an individual susceptible. Beans and grains have compounds that affect zinc absorption. It is highly recommended that those who would follow a vegetarian diet would take zinc supplements.
  • Infants who are not given zinc supplements are at risk. They have higher zinc requirements now that they are older. The mother’s milk may not be enough to meet this zinc requirement.
  • Alcohol affects zinc absorption negatively. Furthermore, its diuretic effect also increases zinc elimination. These properties of alcohol would make alcoholic individuals susceptible to zinc deficiency.
  • Individuals with sickle cell disease require more zinc than those who don’t. They may not know this and are constantly failing to meet their recommended daily intake.

What happens when you do have Zinc deficiency

  • Your immune system would be weakened and you’ll experience more sick days.
  • Your reproductive glands would be negatively affected which means your sexual performance and libido will be negatively affected as well.
  • You may notice negative changes with regards to your sense of sight, smell, and taste.

Zinc deficiency may exhibit more symptoms. However, the symptoms mentioned are more apparent.

Foods that contain zinc

It’s not difficult to look for dietary zinc sources, there are a lot of food items to choose from. However, some foods contain more zinc than others. Here are the top 10 zinc-rich foods:

  Amount of Zinc in …  
Top 10 Zinc-rich Foods A 100-gram serving A 200-calorie serving
10. Oatmeal 9% DV 26% DV
9. Yogurt 9% DV 31% DV
8. Lentils 12% DV 20% DV
7. Shitake Mushroom 12% DV 43% DV
6. Firm Tofu 14% DV 20% DV
5. Lean Pork Chops 19% DV 19% DV
4. Chicken Leg 19% DV 20% DV
3. Hemp Seeds 90% DV 33% DV
2. Beef Steak 99% DV 105% DV
1. Oysters 555% DV 1405% DV
  • Percent Daily Value (% DV) refers to the amount of vitamin or mineral that a certain food item would provide with respect to the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI).

Zinc Supplement Dosage

Zinc is a wonderful mineral that offers a lot of health benefits. However, like all things, too much of it is detrimental to your health. When taking in Zinc Supplements be mindful of the following upper limits:

  • Neonates (6 months below) – 4 mg
  • Infants (7-12 months) – 5 mg
  • Children (1-3 years) – 7 mg
  • Children (4-8 years) – 12 mg
  • Children (9-13 years) – 23 mg
  • Teen (14-18 years) – 34 mg
  • Adults – 40 mg

Frequently Asked Questions

What foods contain zinc?

There are a lot of food items that contain zinc. We’ve already mentioned the top 10. However, the following food items also contain zinc:

  • Alaska king crab
  • Lobster
  • Baked beans
  • Nuts
  • Wheat germ

When should I take zinc?

If you feel like your diet is enough to meet your recommended daily intake of zinc then it is okay if you don’t take supplements. However, your diet may not be enough to meet the recommended daily intake of other vitamins and minerals. Due to this, you’ll end up taking multivitamin pills that may contain zinc. This shouldn’t be a cause of concern for zinc overdose through food supplements is rare.

So for individuals who are generally healthy, you may or may not take in zinc supplements. For those who are susceptible to developing zinc deficiency, you must consult your doctor right away and seek advice whether zinc supplementation is right for you.

Conclusion

Recent studies have shown evidence that zinc may help when it comes to treating COVID-19. Although it is not a definitive cure, meeting your recommended daily intake of zinc would boost your immune system and increase your resistance towards infection. Furthermore, a lot of organ-systems within your body would benefit greatly from zinc. So it is always a great idea to obtain zinc through your diet or through food supplements.

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Luiz Presso
Luiz Presso