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You are in Healthy Living > Special Nutrients > The Importance of Zinc

The Importance of Zinc by Debora-Dale Young

Do you suffer from acne, stretch marks, white spots on your nails, poor wound healing, poor immunity? Zinc may have something to do with it. Here we discuss Zinc deficiency, causes, symptoms and why zinc is important.






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Zinc is an essential trace mineral and is one of the most abundant to be found in the body.  It is naturally found in some foods, added to others and also available as a dietary supplement. You have approximately 2-3g with around 60% is in the muscles that support your skeleton and 30% is in the bones.   So if nothing else zinc plays an important part in keeping you upright.  The remaining 10% is found in the teeth, hair, nails, skin, liver, leukocytes (white blood cells), prostate, sperm and testes.

So what are some functions of Zinc in the body?

Zinc makes things happen

 Zinc is used in by over 100 different enzymes in body, that are involved in the chemical processes of building things that the body needs or breaking down stuff that it doesn’t want.  Here are a couple of examples.

  • Thyroid function – Zinc is used to make the hormone (TRH) that signals the thyroid to make thyroid hormones. It converts the protein we eat into amino acids, including tyrosine which powers the thyroid hormone production. Finally it is involved in the making of T3 the active form that is used in the muscles
  • Formation of bone – Zinc is used by enzymes in the production of collagen and alkaline phosphatase (ALP), which are important for bone formation.  It is also used to make calcitonin, a hormone that inhibits the breakdown of bone. 
  • 30% of the zinc found in a cell is found in the nucleus. This makes sense as it is very involved with DNA and the replication of cells and proteins needed by the body.

Zinc is important for immunity

Zinc is very important in the first line of defence in our bodies. This first line is represented by physical barriers, such as the skin and mucous membrane linings inside the body.  Zinc is found in the mucous secretions of the respiratory system and on the surfaces of lungs and throat.  It has an antimicrobial effect, so helps to kill inhaled bacteria and viruses before they get chance to take hold.   Zinc is also secreted in the saliva and the mucous membranes of the digestive system to kill any ingested invaders.

However, it is not just supporting the barriers that makes zinc important for immunity.  Zinc also supports white blood cell production and the activating of the B and T cells required by the immune system to fight viruses and bacteria.

Zinc is a great antioxidant

It appears that zinc protects our cell membranes against the oxidative damage that can be caused by other metals in the body, such as iron or copper.  It also forms part of an important antioxidant in the body called superoxide dismutase.  This is used by the liver to bind toxins that are the removed from the body.

What are some common zinc deficiency signs?

  • Poor sense of taste or smellBenefits of Zinc
  • Stretch marks
  • Acne
  • White spots on the nails
  •  Poor growth – mostly in children
  •  Hair loss
  • Anorexia
  • Poor wound healing
  • Chronic and severe diarrhoea
  • Poor immunity
  • Poor night vision
  • Dry skin

What can cause deficiency?

  • Phytates that can be found in wholegrain, rice, corn and legumes can reduce absorption.  This means that strict vegetarians and vegans are at risk of low zinc as these foods often contribute highly to their diet.
  • Zinc absorption is impaired by iron, copper and calcium
  • Oral contraceptive
  • High perspiration – so athletes can lose a lot in sweat
  • Diarrhoea – people with persistent diarrhoea can become deficient.  This can include people with inflammatory bowel disease and other digestive conditions with impaired absorption.
  • Diabetes, liver or kidney disease
  • Caffeine and high alcohol intake
  • Antacids and antibiotics
  • Stress – zinc decreases and copper increases in stress

Testing for Zinc deficiency

  • Serum zinc – Measures zinc in the blood stream
  • Hair Testing – Zinc is one of the minerals that can be tested through hair analysis
  • Zinc oral taste test –This test is often done in pharmacies.  It works by taking a mild zinc solution into the mouth and assessing by what you can taste.  Results are assessed as follows:

Grade 1 (Poor zinc status) - No specific taste or sensation.  Just like water

Grade 2 ((Mild deficiency) – No initial taste, but gradually starts to taste dry, mineral like, furry or sweet

Grade 3 (Good zinc status) – A definite taste straight away that intensifies over time

Grade 4 (Optimal zinc status) – Strong unpleasant metallic taste immediately that does not go away for ages

Be aware that too much zinc is also a bad thing. Zinc toxicity symptoms include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and headaches. Ensure you get yourself tested at your local pharamcy - use the pahramcy locator on the right hand side to find the local store near you!

What foods are high in Zinc?

  • Animal proteins such as chicken, lamb, beef, eggs
  • Fish and seafood especially oysters
  • Vegetarian sources include nuts, legumes, wholegrains, miso, tofu, brewer’s yeast, mushrooms, green beans, seeds (like pumpkin, sesame), green leafy vegetables, avocado
  • Sea vegetables like kelp and spirulina

Practical applications of zinc

Eye health

Zinc and eye healthAs one of the deficiency signs of zinc is poor night vision, you can see it is important for eye health.  Locally its antioxidant actions help to protect the eye from age related macular degeneration caused by oxidative damage.   Zinc is also needed by the liver to synthesise vitamin A, which is very important for good eyesight.  It is also part of the mechanism to transport it in the blood to the eye area. 

Healthy skin

zinc and acneZinc found in the skin has antioxidant properties that provide UV protection.  Due to its importance in the production of collagen it is important for wound healing and makes it important for dry and allergic skin conditions.  It is very beneficial in the treatment of acne. This is due to its role in the regulate oil glands and also because of its anti-inflammatory actions in the skin. If you think of teenage boys, needing lots of zinc for growth and sexual development, with acne,  zinc is perfect.

Men’s Health

Zinc helps healthy spermTraditionally oysters are known as an aphrodisiac and this may be due to their high zinc content. Since zinc is shown to be stored in the prostate, sperm and testes, you can imagine it must be beneficial to men’s health.  Research has shown that supplementation of zinc can increase sperm count, motility and morphology. 

With regards to prostate health zinc can help to reduce the chances of prostate enlargement. This is  important for men over 50, as they are at increased risk  of BHP (Benign prostatic hyperplasia).

Mood and Brain health

Zinc helps good moodAmounts of zinc can be found in the brain and it has been shown to reduce oxidative damage. Oxidative damage of the brain is linked to the progression of some diseases, such Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Regarding mood zinc has a calming effect on the brain and deficiencies can lead to agitation and mood swings.  Zinc can be depleted by stress and copper is increased.  The balance of these two minerals is important for balanced mood.  Low levels of zinc have been found in those with major depression and there is a hypothesized link between zinc and serotonin uptake in the brain.  There have also been studies showing benefits for children with autism and ADHD. There are also links between low zinc and post natal depression.

Immunity

zinc helps immune systemZinc is one nutrient you can look at to improve your immune system to try and prevent those ills and chills.  There is also data to suggest that if you catch something zinc supplementation can help to move it on much quicker.




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Showing 29 comments

Heesung

Thank you for good information

Clinicians

Thanks for the feedback Heesung!

raymond

thx u very much,i like this .i need more.

Mika Corbby-Gold

Thanks for the knowledge, shown on this page

M.Naveed Aslam

More informative site

pravy

graziee..................thanks

Clinicians

No problem - Thanks!
If you need any more infomation please dont hesitate to contact our naturopaths.
info@nhlab.co.nz

KJ

How do you know that after taking zinc your enlarge prostate has reduced .

Clinicians

one would expect that the symptoms would start to disappear and that when the doctor does their examination, the enlargement would have reduced. Shane^Clinicians Naturopath

KJ

How many mg of zinc should one take to reduce enlarge prostate ? Any side effect ? If yes how do you know ?

Shane

Standard dose is between 15 - 25mg per day but would also recommend Saw Palmetto, nettles and diindolymethane as well. No known side effects. Other question is answered above. Shane^Clinicians Naturopat.

Carol Lambert

Taking Zinc caps cured me of allergy to u v rays which had diagnosed as Lupus. Mother and 3 sisters had Polymyalgia. I did not get it. We all lived on our orchard for the 15 years of DDT spraying until it was banned.

Aakash Barai

Marvellous Information in this site. I have bookmarked this site

Jane Cronin

Many thanks I am glad you enjoyed the article

Jason

Could acne still develop in teenage boys if zinc levels are normal? In other words, in this case does acne automatically correlate with a low zinc status?

Jane Cronin

Hi Jason, Acne is caused by many things, so low zinc is not the only reason. There is however a strong association with teenage acne is boys as whilst they develop hormonally they use a lot of zinc. I would also look at low Omega 3 oils and vitamin A, a diet high in sugar and bad fats like fried food), hormone imbalance and dairy intolerance as other reasons.

pranavdave

Good for my nowlege and any video about zinc ple send my email id

Judi Kester

I read that studies done on Zinc deficiency proved that 80 % of Schizophrenics tested were zinc deficient. Please comment, thank you

Jane Clinicians Naturopath

I have not heard this fact, but would be open to it. I know there are links with the digestive system and food intolerances that can reduce zinc. Could you send links to the studies you have seen to our apple@nhlab.co.nz web address and I will do some further search

Dmoz Asfaw

what about the carcenogenic effect?

Jane Cronin Clinicians Naturopath

I have never heard of any carcenogenic effects. Perhaps you would like to email apple@nhlab.co.nz with the research you have on this so we can investigate.

Lilly William

Pls can zinc cure low level of progesterone that causes lack of menstruation if not can u help me with it.

shane

Zinc is involved with over 200 different enzymes in the body and the formation of hormones definitely needs zinc. While low levels of zinc will affect levels of hormones, to raise levels of progesterone may need more than zinc. Email us at apple@nhlab.co.nz with some more details and we will see what we can suggest.

Antony

Wow, very informative

Shubaa

Thank you .....

Sandra Fraser

Zinc article very informative! Thankyou

Pius

What is the best way to take zinc supplement, do you have to take it with another supplement or just by it self and the best time to take it before bed or during the day or first thing in the morning

Shane - Clinicians Naturopath

Zinc is absorbed better when taken on an empty Stomach. 40% to 90% of orally-ingested Zinc is absorbed when the Stomach is empty. Zinc is best taken in divided doses both in the morning and at night. Shane
   

lynn

Thank you for some great clinical information. I was just diagnosed with low zinc levels as well as poor functioning thyroid. All of the symptoms noted in this article I am experiencing. ..hair loss, low energy, etc. It is comforting to know these symptoms can be reversed with treatment.
Dietary supplements are not a replacement for a balanced diet. Always read the label. Use as directed. Do not exceed the recommended daily dose. If symptoms persist, see your health professional.
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