How important is zinc to our health? Most people cannot answer that question. How about you? Do you know what the health benefits of zinc are?
Last Update : 10/07/2017
Zn – What Are The Health Benefits Of Zinc?
Zinc is a chemical element. The element symbol is Zn and its atomic number is 30. Although zinc ores have been used since antiquity to produce brass, it was not before 1746 that the German chemist Andreas Sigismund Marggraf managed to isolate it.
It is one of the essential trace elements, meaning that our body needs it but in very small quantities. Its presence is essential for the action of hundreds of enzymes and for the regulation of many important metabolic processes. The problem is though that our body can not produce it, nor does it have a mechanism to store it. This is why external intake via food or dietary supplements is required on a daily basis.
Role In The Body
The human body needs zinc for its proper development and good health. It is a structural part of more than 300 enzymes, whose activity it regulates. Some examples of these enzymes are dehydrogenases, phosphatases and DNA- and RNA-polymerases. Among the vital functions in which it plays a significant role are:
• The functioning of the immune system
• Synthesis and formation of proteins
• Healing process of wounds
• DNA synthesis
• Cell division
• Development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence
• The senses of smell, vision, and taste
• Prostate and intestinal health
• Thyroid function
Recommended Daily Intake
According to the German Nutrition Society (DGE), the recommended daily intake is the following:
Many types of foods contain zinc, such as red meat (pork, beef, lamb etc), oysters, cheese, chicken, fish, cereals, yogurt, beans, milk, oatmeal, nuts and others. Here is a list of the major food sources of Zn.
Zinc deficiency is rare in developed countries because it is contained in many foods. The causes of zinc deficiency are 1) decreased dietary intake or reduced absorption and/or 2) increased body needs.
Vegetarians are more likely to develop deficiency as the element is abundant in meat. Besides, there are studies suggesting that phytic acid, which is found in staple foods such as cereals, corn, and rice, has a strong negative effect on zinc absorption.
Individuals with diabetes, kidney or liver disease, as well as people suffering from alcoholism, may also experience decreased zinc absorption. The same applies to people with chronic gastro-oesophageal disorders and diarrhea. People suffering from ulcerative colitis, for example, Crohn’s disease or short bowel syndrome, have decreased zinc absorption. Diuretic drugs and laxatives also have a negative impact on absorption.
The nutrition and the capability of the body to absorb zinc both play a crucial role. But there is another equally important factor. And that is, of course, the demands of the body. Pregnant women and those who breastfeed need more Zn, not only for themselves but also for the baby. Children and adolescents that in the development phase, smokers, people with anxiety and those suffering from poisoning by heavy metals also require more Zn.
So far, we’ve talked about the reasons why zinc deficiency might occur, but how exactly does it manifest? How will you know if you, too, need more zinc? Due to its importance to the body, zinc deficiency can cause many and sometimes severe symptoms. Thus, symptoms such as loss of appetite, fatigue, weight loss, growth retardation, weakness, hair loss, brittle nails, slow wound healing, immune system weakness, diarrhea, nausea, erectile dysfunction and taste and smell abnormalities are likely.
Uses & Health Benefits
The action of zinc is multifaceted and the therapeutic benefits it offers, many. Let’s analyze the most important of them.
Zinc deficiency: Oral or intravenous zinc administration can deal with the symptoms caused by deficiency, but long-term use is not recommended.
Skin Care: There are studies suggesting a correlation between skin health and zinc levels in the body. It appears to play an important role in cell growth and skin regeneration. For that reason, its effectiveness in case of skin disorders, such as pimples and acne, is under examination, especially in combination with antibiotics. The mechanism of action, though, is still unclear and several members of the scientific community remain cautious.
Wound Healing: Zinc is also part of many formulations designed to heal wounds caused by minor cuts and burns. It stimulates the natural tissue regeneration process and prevents the development of bacteria at the application area.
Immune System & Common Cold: Zinc affects the immune system directly and multidimensionally. In addition to its importance for a large number of enzymes, it activates T-lymphocytes and macrophages and affects the production of proinflammatory cytokines, which are critical for the treatment of fungal and bacterial infections. It is not surprising that zinc deficiency is associated with the appearance of upper respiratory tract infections, such as pneumonia. Zinc also has an antiviral effect. In particular, according to a study, zinc administration within 24 hours of the occurrence of common cold symptoms, usually caused by a rhinovirus, has beneficial results in terms of duration and severity.
Prostate Cancer & Impotence in Men: Prostate is inextricably linked to the sexual health of men, as it secretes alkaline fluids that protect and nourish semen. The concentration of Zn in the prostate is normally much greater than in other tissues. This is a strong indication of the importance of Zn for the health of the gland. There is, however, a big disparity in the findings with regard to prostate cancer and its potential connection to zinc. In fact, some researchers support that excessive consumption of this trace element leads to an increased risk of prostate cancer.
The Senses of Smell & Taste: The lack of Zn negatively affects the senses of taste and smell, hence taking supplements can restore their functionality. Gustin is a zinc-containing polypeptide, that is found in the saliva and is vital to the growth of taste buds. Meanwhile, the function of olfactory neurons, whose role is to detect traces of chemicals in inhaled air, is affected by enzymes that require zinc. It is, therefore safe to say, that without Zn, the two senses can not function properly.
Fertility & Pregnancy: Zinc is necessary for many cellular functions such as DNA synthesis, protein synthesis and formation, and cell division and it also has antioxidant properties. It plays a major role in the metabolism of hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. Concerning male fertility, the deficiency causes decreased sperm count (oligospermia) and reduced mobility. In women, zinc deficiency has a negative effect on ovulation, oocyte penetration and function, viability and growth of the fetus and it consequently affects female fertility. There is also an association of zinc with teratogenicity and other abnormalities in the fetus as well as with complications during birth and increased maternal mortality. The use of supplements can prevent all aforementioned, but over-consumption may also have a negative impact.
Antioxidant: The role of Zn as an antioxidant has been long accepted, but the exact mechanism of action is not fully understood. Many of its beneficial effects on the human body, however, are due to its antioxidant properties. Taking into account the correlation of oxidative stress with many diseases (asthma, cardiovascular disease, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.), you can easily understand how important it is for our diet.
Cognitive Function: Research findings show that zinc is of great importance for the development and functioning of the brain not only during pregnancy but also during infancy and early childhood. The mechanism of action is not yet clear, but it seems to be important for the proper neurotransmitter function at synapses. Low zinc intake is associated with decreased concentration, weak memory, and reduced learning ability. This might have to do with the high concentrations of zinc in the hippocampus, the damage of which affects memory. The potential association of Zn with Alzheimer’s disease is also under examination.
Metabolism & Weight Loss: Metabolism is the set of biochemical processes involved in the production and release of energy. In order for our body to make the most out of the energy benefits of food, it requires vitamins and trace elements as catalysts for those metabolic processes. One of these trace elements is zinc. Don’t get this wrong, though! The proper metabolic function does not necessarily result in weight loss! As a matter of fact, there are studies that associate zinc with increased secretion of ghrelin in the stomach, a hormone that promotes food intake.
Sickle Cell Disease: Sickle cell anemia is a lifelong, hereditary disease associated with red blood cells, and is passed on from the parents to the child. In people with the disease, hemoglobin is abnormal and takes the shape of the sickle. This, of course, affects the primary role of red blood cells, that is transferring oxygen to the tissues. There are indications that taking nutritional supplements improves the development of children suffering from the disease.
Leg Ulcers: Leg ulcers refer to skin trauma on the leg, in combination with delayed healing, that allows the infection of the tissue. As a study suggests, patients with chronic leg ulcers, have low levels of zinc and other nutrients and therefore, supplements may improve the healing rates of the wound.
Hair Loss: Alopecia is the most common hair loss disorder and manifests in various forms, in men, women and even children. Although there are many treatments to deal with alopecia, these are not always effective, so there is a constant search for other choices. One of those might be zinc supplements. Several studies conclude that supplements have a positive impact on people suffering from alopecia and can be used as an alternative method.
Warts: It seems that using 10% of sulfate Zn locally is an effective treatment for common warts.
Other Conditions: The role of zinc in diabetes type 1 and 2 is unclear and is hence under investigation. The same applies to osteoporosis and AIDS, for which there are indications but not concrete evidence.
Zinc is generally considered to be non-toxic when taken orally or when applied topically to the skin. Other nutrients can affect its absorption, so supplements should be taken at least 30 minutes before eating. Since it can cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea, it may be necessary to combine with gastroprotection preparations.
The daily dose should not exceed 40mg, which of course includes food intake and supplements. At doses far above this limit (> 100 mg), you might experience the aforementioned symptoms, as well as fatigue, anemia due to decreased copper absorption, decreased good cholesterol (HDL) and/or iron deficiency. Extremely high doses may cause death. Additionally, some studies show that over-intake more than doubles the risk of developing prostate cancer.
Pregnant and lactating women can receive zinc without risk but within the permissible limits mentioned above.
In addition to interacting with trace elements such as copper and iron, Zn can also interact with various types of drugs. More specifically, it interacts with antibiotics such as quinolones (such as ofloxacin, ciprofloxacin, moxifloxacin, levofloxacin) and tetracyclines (such tetracycline, doxycycline) as well as with penicillamine, a drug against rheumatoid arthritis. Finally, alcohol, laxatives, and certain diuretic drugs can reduce the absorption of zinc.
As mentioned earlier, the phytic acid contained in cereals, corn, and rice has a negative effect on zinc absorption. On the other hand, the interaction between caffeine and zinc is still unclear. The effect of herbal preparations is also under investigation.
Although Zn is necessary for our body, we usually overlook its importance. This could relate to the fact that zinc deficiency is not easily identifiable. It is true, that for most people, the idea does not even cross their mind that their symptoms might be related to zinc. In any case, the best way to protect your health is to check it regularly and eat properly.
Did you find this article interesting? If so, share it with your friends. Do not hesitate to use the comment section below to share your thoughts.
Disclaimer: Material on this blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is general information that may not apply to you as an individual, and is not a substitute for your own doctor’s medical care or your pharmacists’ advice.