(NaturalNews) Zinc is an essential mineral which, although required in only limited amounts, the body cannot produce and a steady supply must be maintained in order to support important bodily processes like strengthening the immune system, wound healing, cell division and supporting the catalytic activity of various enzymes essential in DNA. It has also been reported to encourage hair growth, as cells in the hair follicle contain zinc, and promote healthy skin, as zinc manages the skin's oil content and the androgenic hormonal effect that produces acne.
Aside from being present in meat, dairy products and certain vegetables, zinc is also an essential trace mineral found in the soil. To get the full dietary benefits of zinc, choosing only organically grown vegetables or meat sourced from free range farms that feed their livestock organic grain is important. Commercial farming has depleted the soil of minerals and trace elements resulting in nutrient deficient products that may not contain enough zinc. It has also been observed that zinc is best absorbed when taken with a meal that contains protein and that zinc sources from fish, meat and poultry are more easily absorbed by the body than zinc derived from plant food. The body absorbs around 20 to 40 percent of the zinc present in food.
Nevertheless, observing a healthy and well rounded diet can already satisfy the body's zinc requirements. However, if you suspect that you may not be getting enough, zinc is also commercially available as a supplement and is already normally a component in commercially available multivitamin supplements.
Benefits of zinc
People from industrialized countries rarely suffer from zinc deficiency. However, alcoholics, vegans, vegetarians, those undergoing chronic treatment of certain medications and infants are prone to zinc deficiency. So are patients who suffer from chronic GI, diabetes, liver disease, malabsorption syndrome and HIV infection.
Zinc deficiency is normally accompanied by nutrient deficiencies and addressing these deficiencies is important as zinc repletion alone may not lead to significant clinical improvement. Deficiency in iron, as well as vitamin D, is a nutritional deficiency normally associated with zinc.
People who suffer from zinc deficiency increase their risk of dementia and cognitive decline. Researchers have long recognized that zinc improves memory and learning. Zinc is normally found in the vesicles or nerve cells responsible for the transmitters that enable the nerve cells to communicate. The neurons of the hippocampus responsible for higher functions of learning and memory also contain major concentrations of zinc. If zinc were to be removed from the brain, communications between the neurons would significantly decrease. Scientists discovered that zinc is vital for controlling the efficiency of nerve cells in the hippocampus and when zinc levels are increased, communication in the hippocampus region would be restored, improving learning and memory capacity.
In men, zinc deficiency can result in delayed sexual maturation, prostate enlargement and even impotency.
Among the elderly, factors like reduced capacity to absorb zinc, increased use of drugs that increase zinc secretion may contribute to a mild case of zinc deficiency. It is particularly relevant that they pay attention to maintaining adequate zinc intake to avoid the consequences of zinc deficiency like impaired immune functions and osteoporosis. In a study conducted on 600 senior citizens, it was discovered that those with healthy zinc levels in their blood were 50 percent less likely to develop pneumonia. A prior study also revealed that those who had normal zinc levels in their blood experienced fewer overall infections and needed fewer antibiotics as opposed to those who suffered from low zinc levels who were prone to developing prolonged illness.
Other conditions associated with zinc deficiency include rashes, hair loss, diarrhea, dry or scaly scalp, loss of appetite, loss or changes in vision, poor or stunted growth, recurring infections, reduced sense of smell or taste, slow healing of wounds, cuts, bruises and unexplained weight loss.
Drug interactions and recommendations
Zinc supplements are available in the following forms: zinc sulphate, which may be the most affordable, but not easily absorbed and may cause stomach upset; zinc acetate, zinc citrate, zinc glycerate, zinc monomethionine and zinc picolinate. The following are easily absorbed by the body but may cost a lot more. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, zinc's recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 11mg/day for men and 8mg/day for women.
When taking zinc, have it with juice or water. Take it with meals if it causes stomach upset. Zinc also shares a strong inverse relation with copper. Excess amounts in one can cause deficiency in the other. That is why it is recommended that when taking zinc, even in a multivitamin, it should be taken along with copper.
Although research has shown that taking 40 mg of zinc daily is a safe amount, scientists are not sure what would happen with prolonged intake. Very high doses of zinc may actually weaken the immune functions, lower good cholesterol and increase bad cholesterol. There are also reports of people who have used zinc nasal sprays to treat a cold and instead; lost their sense of smell. It is suspected that high doses of zinc may cause headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, loss of muscle coordination, hallucination and alcohol intolerance.
Also, zinc interacts with antibiotics by decreasing the absorption of the drug potentially reducing its efficacy. It is recommended that zinc supplements and antibiotics be taken two hours apart to prevent interactions. The therapeutic use of metal chelating agents and anti-convulsant drugs, as well as the prolonged use of diuretics increasing urinary excretion, may further result in zinc loss.
Recent developments on zinc
Recent research on zinc has shown that zinc is essential in preventing atherosclerosis, provides resistance to malaria, fights breast cancer, diabetes and even the common cold.
The scientists from the University of Singapore discovered that high zinc intake reduced cholesterol build-up on arterial walls. In a study conducted on animal subjects, two sets of rabbits were fed high cholesterol diets over a period of eight weeks. Only one group was given a zinc supplement. At the close of the study, it discovered that the group who enjoyed a zinc supplement had reduced cholesterol build up in their artery walls.
On a related note, it was also discovered that together with vitamin A, zinc provided resistance to malaria, a tropical disease introduced into the bloodstream by a mosquito bite. Drugs once successful in treating malaria are facing a resistance from the evolving parasite. In a study conducted in Burkina Faso, West Africa, where malaria is endemic, researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health studied 150 children aged 6 to 72 months. The children were divided into two groups, one given a placebo while the other was given a single 200,000IU dose of vitamin A plus 10 mg of zinc six days a week for six months. The results of the study revealed that even though the children received supplementation and were still exposed to mosquitoes with some still severely ill, the prevalence of malaria decreased in their group by 34 percent compared to the placebo group who showed only a 3.4 percent decrease.
Zinc has also been found to prevent diabetes and cancer - two of the world's most prevalent diseases.
Diabetes is a disease that affects 23.6 million American adults and children with 1.6 million new cases diagnosed every year. Studies have shown that zinc is responsible for many enzymatic functions that assist in dealing with the negative symptoms of diabetes mellitus. It also improves glycemic control; lessening the harmful effects of diabetes because the enzyme systems which require zinc are mainly involved with the metabolism of glucose; making zinc a natural catalyst for insulin secretion.
On the other hand, cancer is caused by imbalances in the body. The only way to avoid it is to address the imbalance. Zinc together with selenium is one of the many minerals that maintain the body's balance and keep cancer away. Scientists from Pennsylvania University discovered that glands in the breast have unique zinc requirements which, during lactation and breastfeeding, also transfer plenty of zinc into the milk. Infants suffer impaired growth and development if they receive inadequate zinc during breastfeeding. When zinc is not properly metabolized or is deficient, breast cancer often occurs. Lack of zinc has been implicated in the transition and development of the disease; compromising cellular function.
Lastly, zinc has been found to prevent the common cold. In a 2002 study conducted in an American high school, students were given zinc lozenges to test if reported cases of cold and flu would decrease. Based on the results, it was observed that an increase in student attendance, as well as a 62 percent drop in reports of cold-like symptoms, was found among the students.
Moreover, a comprehensive review of prior case studies published in The Cochrane Library has indicated that zinc lozenges and supplements lowered the duration of the common cold, especially when taken within the first 24 hours of visible symptoms.
Call to action
Taking a proactive approach on staying healthy by being aware of your body's nutritional needs, is a step to the right direction towards helping you achieve your goals of becoming healthy, happy and strong. Knowing what zinc can do for you should guide you to making the right choices. After all, your health is your responsibility.