The mineral Zinc is regarded as a trace mineral meaning we only need it in small amounts for the body, despite this small amount, it is still needed for over 300 different enzyme reactions! Amazing huh! Zinc cannot be produced by the body so is therefore regarded as an essential mineral meaning it is essential to life and health.
Why are minerals such as Zinc important for our health?
Minerals are found in the ash after animals and plants have decomposed or burnt completely after their death. As such minerals are found in inorganic substances (chemical compounds) found in rock and soil as well as being found in living tissue (animal and human) and plants. For humans, minerals are needed for proper composition of bones and blood and needed for maintenance of cell function.
We obtain our minerals from plants via the earth/soil, so understanding the importance of soil nutrients and quality is really important as it will give us a better understanding of which minerals we might be missing out on and why.
Equally we need to understand the ramifications of why dietary restrictions may also play a role within mineral deficiency because certain minerals such as Zinc can also be found in meats, seafood and shellfish. Zinc deficiency may be found in people who avoid seafood and in particular shellfish but who are also not great vegetable eaters as well.
However heavily processed foods unfortunately are very low in zinc as most of the mineral is removed during processing. Over cooking foods may get rid of much of the zinc especially in vegetables (which is why homemade vege stock should be staple!).
In New Zealand you may often hear about our soil being “depleted” of nutrients. There are a few explanations to this statement.
Although New Zealand soil is varied throughout the country, most mineral content comes from volcanic rock bed which does contain certain minerals but not all. Heavy rain or flooding can also wash away important minerals, zinc being one of them.
Lack of vegetation growth (because the soil needs decomposing vegetation for further mineral repletion) can also result in lack of minerals. In New Zealand our soil is regarded as varied and “rich” but only a small percentage is actually regarded as fertile enough to grow food without too much interference. Otherwise most of our agriculture relies on the use of heavy fertilisation which actually further depletes the soil of important nutrients including minerals such as magnesium selenium and zinc among others.
So as you can see minerals including Zinc are very important to the body… aka essential… but it is important to understand why we might be deficient and what we can do about it.
The good news is the body is able to store a small amount of Zinc and does so mostly in muscles. It is also found in high concentrations within red blood cells, white blood cells, bone, skin, kidneys, liver, prostate and the retina. Kind of gives you a clue as to how many important organs zinc is good for huh?!
So….Zinc…..what is it good for?
Zinc is needed for over 300 enzyme reactions in the body. These are natural biochemical processes that happen within the different cells throughout the body and are happening all the time!
Important hormonal reactions will rely on enzyme reactions, as do nerve impulses. The way food is metabolised will also rely on enzyme reactions, as well as how food is absorbed, detoxification, DNA replication and immune function….the list literally goes on and on!
And at the core of all these reactions, is the need for ZINC! (plus of course other nutrients)
Signs of deficiency.
It was once believed that zinc deficiency was hard to come by, but with the modern diet being the way it is and the lack of minerals found in soil, it is now more common than say 50 – 60 years ago. The most common symptoms include:
Skin issues such as poor wound healing, acne, dermatitis
Recurrent infections - poor immune function
Reproductive issues - both men and women
Depression/anxiety and or other mood disorders
Loss of smell and taste
Digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome or disorder (may cause zinc deficiency also)
Top 6 reasons why you should supplement Zinc.
Immune function – Zinc is involved in just about every aspect of the immune process. So when Zinc levels are low the number of immune cells decrease, the thymus gland produces lower immune cells, and white blood cell function decreases.
Studies show that if you boost your zinc intake at the very onset of a cold you have a better chance of reducing the severity of and length of a cold. This is because Zinc can dramatically increase the production and function of these important immune cells.
Zinc also has anti-viral capabilities by binding to specific cell receptor sites that are involved in calling on other viral promoting reactions, therefore Zinc may dampen down viral activity.
Another reason to supplement with Zinc during a cold is because this mineral is often deficient during an infection, and this is because white blood cells absorb and utilise zinc in higher amounts to fight a virus or bacterial infection.
Did you know that in ancient times people would wrap large chunks of ginger root which is super high in Zinc to the chest to help get rid of chesty cough?! Amazing huh! This technique is still popular amongst some cultures today!
Balances hormones – Zinc is needed for hormone production and proper hormone maintenance. Research shows that Zinc levels are directly associated with testosterone, estrogen, progesterone and the thyroid hormones T3 and T4.
Zinc ensures healthy receptor sites so that the different hormone organs can communicate properly with each other. So low levels of zinc may decrease thyroid hormone production leading to many other hormonal disruptions such as low progesterone production, low estrogen production and low testosterone production, but also metabolic hormones such as T3 and T4.
Long term deficiency related to hormonal health may cause symptoms such as hair loss, acne, weight gain, hirsutism, connective tissue damage, mood disorders or promote inflammatory conditions such as endometriosis.
Proper growth for children – Zinc is a critical mineral for children. As already mentioned hormonal health relies on adequate amounts of Zinc and this is super important for the various stages of growth that children go through. Growth works by specific hormones communicating with each other during these stages of growth so Zinc deficiency may cause drastic symptoms such as slow growth or loss of appetite.
One important reason to consider Zinc for children is for the central nervous system (CNS). Zinc is really important for brain and CNS health. Zinc deficiency can be found in kids with learning difficulties or behavioural symptoms. It is essential for cognition but also motor development and function issues.
Needed for healthy skin – Zinc is an essential mineral for healthy skin and there are many reasons for this. As already discussed, immunity. Where ever there is a wound then the immune system kicks into play. So zinc deficiency will slow the normal wound healing process down.
But not only this, Zinc is needed for DNA synthesis, so the replication of new skin cells relies on adequate amounts of Zinc!
There is also a lot of positive research around Zinc being used for dermatitis, boils, psoriasis and acne.
Low levels of zinc can be found in people who have acne. Acne is most commonly caused by the over production of sebum which may be linked to hormonal imbalance, stress, poor diet or some medications. So if you have been taking in this information so far…you will see that Zinc may certainly be helpful here!
Zinc is a very popular supplement for teenagers and I would strongly recommend using a Zinc complex alongside any topical skin care routine.
Important for eye health – Zinc can be stored in the macula which is part of the retina which indicates the importance of this mineral for eye health. A deficiency in Zinc may increase the risk of advanced age related macular degeneration. Zinc works closely with vitamin A helping it to create melanin which protects the lens of the eye from oxidative damage. There is now some research to suggest that taking Zinc alongside antioxidant supplementation may significantly reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
Needed for proper food digestion – This mineral is so important for digestion! Zinc is needed for the breakdown of fat, carbs and protein. Zinc is needed for the different enzyme reactions that occur when metabolizing these important macro nutrients, so a deficiency in Zinc may cause symptoms such as leaky gut disorder, abdominal bloating, poor nutrient absorption (malabsorption), fatigue, anaemia ….the list goes on!
The thing to consider is that poor zinc intake may lead to these symptoms and these symptoms further exacerbate zinc intake. Again if you have these types of symptoms you need to get down to the bottom of why they might be occurring so check in with your Qualified Health Practitioner who may refer you to a specialist if they see the need.
Where you can find zinc in foods.
Almonds, beans, brewers yeast, chicken, egg yolk, fish and seafood, green leafy vegetables, lentils, liver (organic), meat, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, grains.
Which Zinc Supplement should I take?
There are different types of Zinc minerals available as supplements.
Zinc is not easily absorbed into the blood stream unless it is bound to another substance otherwise known as “chelated”. For this reason many companies now chelate zinc to amino acids or organic acids to help increase its bio availability.
As you know I only deal with practitioner only prescribed supplements because of their therapeutic dose but also having been clinically trialled for their efficacy. Pure Encapsulations, Medi Herb and Orthoplex are just some of the trusted practitioner only brands I like to suggest.
Is too much Zinc bad for you?
It is possible to overdose Zinc so care is needed if you decide to supplement. Unfortunately many of the testing methods currently available to check Zinc status provide unreliable answers. Although I would suggest supplementation if you suffer from more than one of the symptomatic issues as listed above, if you want to be doubly sure, just check in with me!
If you have any other questions around Zinc supplementation then feel free to ask the super friendly staff they are more than happy to help you choose the right Zinc supplement for you and your family.