Zinc is important for a number of life-sustaining functions, including:
- A strong immune system
- It is active with the enzymes involved in tissue remodeling and prevention of cancer
- It maintenance of your mood, mental clarity and restorative sleep
- It maintains prostate and intestinal health
- It is involved in the senses of taste and smell
Zinc is used in at least 3,000 different proteins in your body and a component of more than 200 different enzymes. Zinc is involved in more enzymatic reactions in your body than any other mineral. Zinc increases your ability to produce white blood cells and helps them fight infection more effectively. Zinc also increases killer cells that combat cancer and helps your immune system release more antibodies to fight infection and support wound healing.
Could You Be Deficient in Zinc?
Mild zinc deficiency is relatively common, especially in infants and children, pregnant or breast-feeding women, elderly, people with poor gastrointestinal absorption or bowel disease like Crohn’s disease, and for those eating vegetarian or vegan diets. A number of factors contribute to the overall problem of zinc deficiency:
- Commercial farming practices that include planting large expanses of land with the same crop year after year, have left our soils deficient in natural minerals including zinc.
- Certain drugs deplete your body of zinc, such as ACE inhibitors, thiazide diuretics, and acid-reducing drugs like Prilosec and Pepcid.
- Vegetarian/vegan diets and high-grain diets, are low in bioavailable zinc and high in phytic acids, which further impair zinc absorption.
Mild zinc deficiency can lead to frequent colds and flu, chronic fatigue, and poor general health. In your child, when growth and development are vitally dependent on good nutrition, zinc deficiency can result in mood disturbances, poor memory, impaired learning and poor school performance. Zinc deficiency can also contribute to acne and poor eyesight. Chronic zinc deficiency can affect eyesight, taste, smell, and memory. White spots on your fingernails can indicate you’re not getting enough zinc.
Zinc is a Key Mineral for Your Immune Health
If your body is mineral deficient, you will experience increased susceptibility to infection. Your white blood cells simply can’t function without zinc.
Zinc is involved in many basic cell functions including DNA replication, RNA transcription, cell division and activation, and stabilization of cell membranes. Research on zinc’s effect on viruses and bacteria show that zinc may reduce the duration of your cold by 50 percent.
The Cochrane Review found that zinc reduced both the duration and severity of symptoms of the common cold. And using zinc preventatively helped prevent colds, leading to fewer school absences and less antibiotic use by children.
Zinc is the hallmark molecule for thymic proteins, which are immune substances made by your thymus gland. Without zinc, you lack this immune defense. Zinc salts are deadly to many pathogens. Viral gastroenteritis is slowed down by the ingestion of zinc due to direct antimicrobial action of the zinc ions in your gastrointestinal tract.
Other functions of zinc:
- Required for B6 utilization by the nervous system
- Zinc B6 and tryptophan are required to make melatonin for sleep
- B6 and zinc are require to produce serotonin which aids with your mood
- Programmed cell death can occur in a zinc rich environment which is why virus die in your throat when you suck on a zinc lozenge
- Required for eye health
- Helps prevent and treat psoriasis, eczema, and acne (with results similar to tetracycline)
- Vast improvements in memory, understanding, communication, and social contact
- Treats male infertility, benign prostatic hypertrophy, erectile dysfunction and it may govern testosterone metabolism
- May reduce chronic inflammatory responses
High grain diets can lead to a number of health problems, including severe zinc deficiency, which in turn can lead to rickets and dwarfism. Protein assists with zinc absorption. Animal proteins increase zinc absorption in general. Vegetarian and vegan diets, often high in grains and legumes, contain more phytic acid and may increase your risk for zinc deficiency.
Foods to eat to get your zinc include oysters, veal liver, pumpkin seeds, roast beef, tahini, unsweetened chocolate, Alaska King Crab, lamb, peanuts (oil roasted), cashews (dry roasted), pork shoulder, almonds, cheddar cheese, chicken leg, chicken breast.
If, for whatever reason, you are not getting enough zinc, or are a vegetarian or have one of the conditions listed in the table above, you may want to add a zinc supplement. But what kind of supplement should you take?
There are a number of forms of zinc available on the market, some better than others. Your body does not easily absorb zinc, unless the zinc is first attached to another substance. Chelation is a process sometimes used to attach zinc to other substances to make it more absorbable and bioavailable. One advantage of chelated forms is you won’t get antagonism with calcium, which can be an issue for zinc salts, such as zinc sulfate (which can also cause stomach irritation).
Good chelated forms of zinc include zinc gluconate, zinc acetate, and zinc citrate all of which look like food to your body.
Foods and medications can interfere with absorption, so the timing of your supplement is important. For example, caffeine can interfere with zinc absorption of zinc by as much as 50 percentâ€”so you will want to avoid chasing down your supplement with a cup of coffee. By contrast, the amino acids cysteine and methionine improve zinc absorption, which means taking your zinc supplement with a high-quality whey protein would be a dynamite immune-boosting duo.
In conclusion, zinc is an often forgotten nutritional staple to add to your flu-busting arsenal. It’s inexpensive and can stop viruses dead.
In addition to making sure you’re getting enough zinc, don’t forget how important your vitamin D levels are for keeping you healthy this winter.
We have a fee zinc test available at our office and can test your Vitamin D through Quest or Labcorp (insurance can be filed).