Zinc is a metallic trace mineral required in the body for the maintenance of good health. Zinc deficiency is found in 12% of the US population, but 40% of the elderly population, and even higher numbers in many parts of Africa and the middle east.
Zinc is a component in more than 100 biochemical processes in the body, which include secretion of enzymes, metabolism of protein and carbohydrates, production of sperms and healing. Consequently, zinc deficiency leads to symptoms like loss of hair, delayed healing, loss of weight, rough skin, depression, poor appetite and lethargy.
Most of the zinc in the body is found in muscles and bones. Significant amounts are also found in the skin, liver, prostate gland and eyes.
Daily intake of zinc
As mentioned earlier, zinc is a trace mineral nutrient required in the body in small amounts. The National Institutes of Health recommends intake of the following amounts of zinc daily:
7 months – 3 years 3 mg
4 – 8 years 5 mg
9 – 13 years 8 mg
Males 14 years or older 11 mg
Females 14 – 18 years 9 mg
Pregnant females 14 – 18 years 13 mg
Pregnant females 19 years plus 11 mg
Foods high in zinc
Zinc is found in many different types of food in different amounts. However, some foods are much higher in zinc. Best food sources of zinc include:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Whole grain
However, since zinc is rarely added to the soil as part of fertilizer, the amount of zinc in foods is highly variable. Including such foods in your diet can help prevent zinc deficiency. Adding the above foods should help your body recover naturally from a zinc deficiency. However, in case of poor zinc absorption, you should consider taking zinc supplements.
Zinc deficiency symptoms
Symptoms of zinc deficiency include low immunity leading to recurrent infections, hair loss, infertility, weight loss or weight gain, poor memory and concentration, digestive problems such as diarrhea, reduced sensitivity to taste or smell, cravings for sugar or salt and reduced appetite.
9 health benefits of zinc in your diet
Of the trace metallic minerals in the body, zinc is only second to iron, and for good reason. It is necessary for the maintenance of good health beside more than 100 other roles. Here are 9 health benefits of zinc in your body:
Zinc Boosts Immunity
Zinc plays a critical role in the immune function. It also aids in recovery from disease. Zinc activates T lymphocyte cells. This is a type of white blood cells which control and regulate immune responses in the body. T lymphocytes also attack infected cells in the body, including cancerous cells. (1)
If you have zinc deficiency, your immune system is compromised. This exposes you to easy attack by various disease causing organisms.
Zinc Aids In Absorption Of Nutrients
Zinc has roles in digestion and absorption of protein and carbohydrates. Because of its involvement in digestion and absorption of nutrients, zinc plays a part in energy production in the body. Zinc deficiency can lead to low energy and chronic fatigue. Increasing zinc intake can, therefore, reduce fatigue and boost energy production.
Zinc plays an important role in the production and maturity of sperms. It follows that deficiency or low zinc levels can lead to low sperm count and low sperm quality. This problem can be remedied by increasing zinc intake of high zinc rich foods. In a study conducted in the Netherlands, when men with low sperm count took a supplement of zinc sulfate together with folic acid, their sperm count increased significantly. (2)
Reduces Risk Of Age-Related Diseases
Zinc deficiency increases the risk of developing age-related chronic illnesses. It is worth noting that chronic inflammation is associated with diseases like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, age-related macular degeneration and cancer. Ensuring that your diet includes foods high in zinc helps prevent deficiency.
Various studies, including one by Oregon University researchers have found that increasing intake of zinc reduces inflammation in the body. This leads to a better functioning immune system which is able to protect the body from infections and illnesses including those linked to age-related diseases. (3)
Reduces Risk Of Developing Cancer (anti-inflammatory, antioxidant)
Adequate zinc intake boosts the immune function. It also helps prevent or fight chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. These activities are protective against many diseases. Chronic inflammation and oxidation by free radicals are associated with the development of cancer. Ensuring that you get adequate amounts of zinc through foods or supplements can significantly lower your risk of cancer. One of the many zinc benefits is that it has also been shown to stunt growth of tumors by inducing death of cancerous cells and preventing development of new blood vessels in the tumors. (4)
Zinc plays an important role in the production of various hormones including testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. It increases production of testosterone, especially in men. Testosterone is critical for muscle formation and performance. It is also critical in the production of sperms and maintaining healthy libido.
In women, zinc is involved in the production of estrogen and progesterone, which are critical for the reproductive functions. It plays a part in the regulation of production of these hormones and also development and release of eggs from the ovaries. Zinc deficiency can lead to unbalanced production of hormones which can cause fertility problems.
Supports Mental Functions
Zinc is required for healthy brain function. Most of the zinc in the brain is found in the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with learning and memory. Studies have explained that the high concentration of zinc in the hippocampus helps in learning and the formation of memory. (5)
Zinc is also responsible for protecting the brain from free radicals and attack by pathogens like viruses and bacteria. Zinc deficiency leads to reduced protection against these attacks. It also weakens the blood-brain barrier and is linked to mental problems like epileptic seizures, schizophrenia and alcoholism. (6)
Supports Growth and Repair of Muscles and Bones
Zinc has a role in the production of cells, including muscle cells. This is important because muscles, just like other tissues require new cells to replace old ones. They also require repair of injured cells in order to maintain their integrity as part of the muscular – skeletal system.
Aids In Recovery From Illness
Zinc deficiency exposes the body to infections and illnesses, people who regularly get infections should consider increasing their zinc intake. According to some studies, zinc supplementation can reduce the duration of common cold by about 40 percent. (8) If taken as soon as symptoms are present, oral zinc lozenges have been found quite useful in limiting the duration and severity of a cold.
Zinc can also help to hasten wound healing and recovery from other skin problems like leg ulcers, diaper rash and similar skin irritations. (9)