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“Zinc from A to Z” –Why you need this essential mineral

“Zinc from A to Z” –Why you need this essential mineral

For many, consuming enough zinc isn’t exactly “top of mind.”  Categorized as a trace mineral, zinc is only needed by the body in small amounts.  But this doesn’t mean zinc is unimportant - far from it.  Zinc plays a significant role in immune function, wound healing, and maintaining overall health and well-being.  (Plus, it has a few surprising tricks up its sleeve when it comes to guarding your health).

An essential mineral, zinc isn’t produced in the body and must be obtained through diet or supplementation.  Clearly, you’ll want to maintain optimal levels of this vital mineral.  So let’s take a closer look at zinc - and what it can do for you.

Enhance immune function and support healthy skin and beyond

Zinc, which exists in every cell of the body, could be said to “wear many hats.”  First, it boosts immune defenses by promoting immune cell signaling and cell function.  Second, it helps to make protein - needed for the maintenance and production of cells - along with collagen, which is essential for healthy skin and arteries. 

Third, zinc repairs skin and helps prevent infection, making it a necessary player in wound healing.  It’s also vital for growth and development during pregnancy - and in infants, children, and teens.  Fourth, one of a select group of minerals that function as antioxidants, zinc scavenges harmful free radicals and heavy metals.  Finally, it works on a molecular level to help protect, repair, and replicate cell DNA.

Tap into the benefits of zinc to fight colds

Zinc’s immune system-strengthening effects might make it a valuable ally in the flu and cold season.  While studies have shown mixed results, many people swear by the ability of zinc supplementation to shorten the common cold and ease symptoms.  In a 2021 systematic review published in BMJ Open, the authors cited studies showing that zinc supplementation shortened the duration of colds by up to three full days.  In one particularly impressive study, participants with respiratory infections who took a zinc acetate lozenge every two to three hours cut the duration by three days and experienced less severe coughing, runny nose, and muscle aches.

However, zinc must be taken at the first sign of a cold.  So, consider reaching for zinc for relief at the onset of that telltale tickle in the throat or that first bout of sneezing.  Check first with your integrative doctor, though, to make sure zinc supplementation is appropriate for you.

Zinc can safeguard the eye health of seniors

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in adults over 65.  Zinc may provide protection against this degenerative condition by shielding the retina from damage caused by ultraviolet light.  Population-based studies have shown that higher amounts of zinc in the diet are associated with a lower risk of AMD.  And clinical studies back this theory up. 

Along with beta-carotene, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin E, and copper, zinc is an official component of the AREDS (Age-Related Eye Disease Study) formula endorsed by the National Eye Institute to prevent AMD.  In one study involving participants at high risk for AMD, the AREDS formula lowered the risk of developing advanced AMD by a very significant 25 percent!

Meet your zinc needs with good nutrition

The Office of Dietary Supplements currently advises a recommended amount of 8 mg of zinc daily for women and 11 mg for men.  Animal products such as grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products are good sources of zinc.  (Oysters reign supreme as the best dietary source, with a three-ounce serving contributing 32 mg - almost triple the RDA.)  Beef and blue crab, the next best sources, contribute about 3 to 4 mg per three-ounce serving.

Vegans and vegetarians can get zinc through beans, legumes, enriched cereals, nuts, and seeds - particularly pumpkin and sunflower seeds - but there is a catch.  Not only are there smaller amounts of zinc in plant-based foods, but compounds known as phytates can interfere with zinc absorption.  Soaking beans, grains, and seeds in water for several hours before cooking can improve zinc absorption.

Zinc deficiency can cause delays in wound healing, impaired sense of taste or smell, and changes in cognitive function.  While most people in the United States consume enough zinc to meet the amount set by the ODS, some individuals - including older people, vegetarians, and vegans - may struggle to meet the RDA.  Your integrative healthcare provider may recommend supplementation through a multivitamin or a stand-alone formulation.  Always check with your provider before trying zinc.

Supplementary zinc is available as sprays, lozenges, tablets, and capsules, with zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, and zinc acetate as the most common forms.  Zinc can also be found in multivitamins and some homeopathic preparations.

Surprisingly, zinc can also turn up in denture adhesion creams.  The ODS warns that chronic, excessive use of denture cream (for instance, a whole tube every week for several years) could cause toxicity - which involves copper deficiency and neurologic problems.  High zinc intake can also cause nausea, dizziness, headaches, and vomiting.  So if you’re concerned about zinc in denture creams, check the label to ensure you’re getting a zinc-free product.

In appropriate amounts, zinc functions as a sort of “handyman” in the body, busily repairing tissues and cells and bolstering the immune system.  So getting healthy amounts of this essential trace mineral can ensure that industrious zinc keeps on working for you.

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