Zinc for immunity, smell, taste and more

Naturopath & Medical Herbalist 5-minute read
Zinc for immunity, smell, taste and more
Zinc is one of the most abundant minerals in the body and is stored in many locations. This is because of its importance to so many body functions. Find out what zinc is doing for you.

Zinc is a trace mineral and you have approximately 2-3g of it stored around the body

  • 60% in the muscles that support your skeleton
  • 30% in the bones
  • 10% in the teeth, hair, nails, skin, liver, leukocytes (white blood cells), prostate, sperm and testicles. 

What are some functions of zinc in the body?

Zinc is a catalyst for change

Zinc is used by over 100 different enzymes in the body, which 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 required by the body when it converts the protein we eat into amino acids, including tyrosine which supports healthy thyroid function
  • Formation of bone: The enzymes in the body need zinc so they can produce collagen and alkaline phosphatase (ALP), which are important for bone formation. They also use zinc in the production of calcitonin, a hormone that supports healthy bones.
  • Making cells: 30% of zinc in a cell is found in the nucleus. This makes sense as it supports the body with DNA and the replication of cells and proteins.

Zinc supports our immune system

Zinc is needed by the body for our first line of defence. 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 the lungs and throat. It supports the body’s immune system, so helps to support against bacteria and viruses before they get a chance to take hold. Zinc is also secreted in the saliva and the mucous membranes of the digestive system to support against any ingested bugs.

However, this is not the only immune-supporting function of zinc. The body also requires zinc in its production of white blood cells and the activating of the B and T cells required by the immune system.

Zinc for antioxidant support

Zinc helps support the body to protect cell membranes against the damage that can be caused by other metals in the body, such as iron or copper. The body also needs zinc when it is making an important antioxidant called superoxide dismutase. This is used by the liver to bind toxins that are then removed from the body.

What are some common signs of zinc deficiency?

  • Poor sense of taste or smell
  • Stretch marks
  • Skin breakouts
  • White spots on the nails
  • Poor appetite
  • Poor wound healing
  • Frequent diarrhoea
  • Poor immunity
  • Poor vision at night
  • Dry skin

What can cause zinc deficiency?

  • Phytates, a substance found in wholegrain, rice, corn and legumes can reduce zinc absorption. This means that strict vegetarians and vegans are at risk of low zinc as these foods often contribute highly to their diet.
  • Zinc competes for absorption with other minerals such as iron, copper and calcium. Supplementing with one of these could affect zinc levels.
  • Some medications e.g. antacids, oral contraceptive, HRT, antibiotics.
  • High perspiration, which means athletes can lose a lot in sweat could be affected.
  • People with persistent diarrhoea can become deficient.
  • People with blood sugar imbalances.
  • Caffeine and high alcohol intake.
  • Stress – zinc decreases and copper increases in times of stress.
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding.

How to add more zinc into your diet

There are lots of foods rich in zinc, so that makes them easy to add to your diet.

They include:

  • Animal proteins, like chicken, lamb, beef, eggs
  • Fish and seafood, especially oysters
  • Vegetarian sources like nuts, legumes, whole grains, miso, tofu, brewer’s yeast, mushrooms, green beans, seeds (for example pumpkin and sesame), green leafy vegetables, avocados
  • Sea vegetables like kelp and spirulina

Benefits of adding more zinc to your diet

Eye health

Zinc can be taken if you struggle to see at night time. This is because it is used by the liver to create Vitamin A, which is very important for good eyesight and helps transport it to the eye area. Its antioxidant actions also help to support macula health, which is why it is found in our eye formula.

Healthy skin

The antioxidant actions of zinc help protect the skin against UV light. Zinc also supports the production of collagen, which keeps us looking young and helps wound healing and dry skin. It also supports healthy bacterial levels in the skin, which make it a must for those prone to blemishes and supports regulation of the oil glands.

Men’s health

Since zinc is stored in the prostate, sperm and testes, you can imagine it must be supportive for men’s health. Research has shown that healthy zinc levels are important for the body to support normal sperm count, motility and morphology.

With regards to prostate health, zinc levels are important for prostate health, which means it is an important mineral for men over 50 years.

Mood and brain health

Zinc can be found in the brain to support against free radicals. This makes it useful to support healthy brain ageing.

Zinc supports and soothes the nervous system and low zinc can lead to low mood. Zinc can be depleted by stress and copper is increased. The balance of these two minerals is important for a balanced mood.

Immunity

As mentioned earlier zinc is essential for the functioning of our immune system. This makes it useful to take at the first sign of ills and chills or can be taken daily during the winter months.

As you can see zinc is key to all aspects of our wellbeing. make sure you top up your levels if you seen any signs of deficiency.

Testing for healthy zinc levels

There are a number of ways you can test zinc levels in your body including hair testing, oral taste testing or blood testing. Talk to your healthcare practitioner or local pharmacist to find out more.

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