Zinc is an essential trace mineral that is a component of over 200 enzymes, and functions as part of more enzymatic reactions than any other mineral. Zinc is readily absorbed in the upper small intestine. The body only absorbs the amount that it needs and discards the rest through the feces. However, zinc is stored in the liver, pancreas, kidney, bones, voluntary muscles, parts of the eyes, prostate gland, sperm, skin, hair, and fingernails (1). However, because the small intestine only absorbs what is needed at the time, it is important that zinc be constantly replaced.
Zinc is probably most famous for being an immune system booster. When zinc levels decrease, the number of T cells decreases, thymic hormone levels decrease, and many white blood cell functions cease. Both Zinc and Vitamin C have antiviral activity, especially against several of the viruses that cause the common cold (2).
Because Zinc is required for proper cell division, it is essential that pregnant women make sure they are getting enough zinc. Low zinc levels are associated with premature birth, low birth weight, growth retardation, and preeclampsia. One important study showed that women who supplemented their diets with 25 milligrams of zinc per day during pregnancy had babies with greater body weight and head circumference (3).
Zinc is the most important trace element involved in male sexual function. A reduced zinc intake can produce reduced Testosterone levels. Male hormone metabolism, sperm formation, and sperm motility are all associated with appropriate levels of zinc (4).
Acne, the teenager's nightmare, seems to respond well to zinc supplementation. Studies done on zinc and acne show that zinc yields results similar to tetracycline. The form of zinc used should be one that is easily absorbed, such as zinc citrate, gluconate, picolinate, acetate, or monomethionine. The supplementation usually must take place for at least 12 weeks in order to achieve good results, and the dosage should be 30 to 45 milligrams daily (5).
Alzheimer's disease may also respond to zinc supplementation. In one study in which elderly patients with Alzheimer's were given 27 milligrams of zinc daily, improvements in memory, understanding, communication, and social contact were incredible (6).
Zinc is also important in healing wounds and burns, and can also help diabetics because of its regulatory effect of insulin. Zinc helps to prolong insulin's effect on blood sugar (9).
Conditions associated with Zinc deficiency:
Frequent and/or severe infections
Sleep and behavioral disturbances
Delayed wound healing
Inflammatory bowel disease
Impaired glucose tolerance
Reduced appetite, anorexia
Loss of sense of smell or taste
Delayed sexual maturation
All dermatological disorders
Dandruff and hair loss
Connective tissue disease
Rhematoid arthritis (7).
Nutritional Sources for Zinc:
Zinc is found in the highest concentration in Oysters. It is also found in relatively high concentrations in other shellfish, fish, and red meat. However, it is very susceptible to destruction during cooking. Good concentrations are found in whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds; however, many of these foods contain phytic acid which binds to the zinc and makes it unabsorbable. Non-fermented soyfoods, wheat, corn, legumes, and brown rice all contain significant amounts of phytic acid. So the best bet would be to take a zinc supplement at a time of day when none of these food is going to be consumed. Perhaps take it when you eat your fruit. Nuts like pecans, Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts seem to be ok, and green peas also have 1.6 milligrams of zinc per 3.5 oz serving (8).
The RDA for zinc is 15 milligrams daily; however, the studies mentioned above indicate that more can be taken without problems. Perhaps 25 milligrams a day would be more realistic since there are so many zinc antagonists in the diet.
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(1) Dunne, Lavon J. (1990). Nutrition Almanac, 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, p. 91.
(2) Murray, Michael T. (1996). The Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, p. 186.
(3) Goldenber, R.L., et al. (1995). The effect of zinc supplementation on pregnancy outcome. JAMA, 274, 463-468.
(4) Personal Health Lifestyles, Inc. (2000). "Zinc." Healing With Nutrition. Available Online: [http://www.healingwithnutrition.com/mineral.html#Zinc].
(5) Murray, as in (2) above, p. 187.
(6) Constantinidis, J. (1992). Treatment of Alzheimer's disease by zinc compounds. Drug Develop Res, 27, 1-14.
(7) Murray, as in (2) above, p. 182.
(8) Murray, as in (2) above, p. 181.
(9) Dunne, as in (1) above, p. 92.