Zinc is a mineral that is absolutely vital to living, and even a small deficiency can cause health problems. It is found in every cell in the body and it stimulates the activity of about 100 enzymes – substances that promote biochemical reactions in the body. Zinc helps to maintain a healthy immune system, is necessary for wound healing, helps to maintain your sense of taste and smell, and is needed for DNA synthesis. It aids in regulating hormones, can help to maintain prostate health, and can even increase fertility. Zinc helps prevent and heal cold sores, and also aids in the body’s absorption of minerals. It can improve the health of your skin and hair, and can even reduce the appearance of acne. Zinc has also been shown to help heal ulcers and can help you maintain a healthy digestive tract. It is also an antioxidant mineral, and reduces the damage caused by free radicals. It can revitalise the functioning of the thymus gland which is crucial for a strong immune system. It can help you to recover faster from colds and flues.
Zinc is readily available in drinking water and certain foods. The best natural source is oysters. Other good sources include lean meat, poultry, organ meats, dairy products, and fortified breakfast cereals. Fruits contain little to no zinc, and beans, nuts, seeds, and wholegrains are not a good source of zinc either. This is because foods that contain fibre also contain phytic acid, a substance that blocks zinc absorption. For this reason, vegetarians need to eat more zinc to ensure that they don’t become deficient.
It is possible to suffer a zinc deficiency when intake is inadequate or it is poorly absorbed. It can also happen when there are increased losses of zinc from the body or when the body’s zinc requirements increase. Symptoms of deficiency include growth retardation, hair loss, diarrhea, delayed sexual maturation and impotence, eye and skin lesions, and loss of appetite. Weight loss, delayed healing of wounds, mental lethargy, and taste abnormalities may also occur. Risk factors for deficiency include an inadequate caloric intake, alcoholism and digestive diseases. Vegetarians may need as much as 50 percent more zinc than non-vegetarians as plant sources of zinc are not as well-absorbed.
Zinc toxicity can be acute or chronic. Too much zinc is associated with low copper status, altered iron function, reduced immune function, and reduced levels of good cholesterol.
Long term use of zinc inhibits copper absorption so it can be a good idea to take both zinc and copper. One milligram of copper to every ten milligrams of zinc is ideal.
Supplemental zinc comes in many forms such as zinc gluconate, zinc oxide, zinc aspartate, zinc picolinate, zinc citrate, zinc monomethionine, and zinc histidine. Zinc supplements are available on a standalone basis or as part of other supplements. A “standard” dose is 15 milligrams of elemental zinc per day.