(NaturalNews) In a research review published in the journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety in July, Indian researchers cataloged more than eight separate, research-proven health benefits that zinc plays in the human body.
Zinc is a metal that functions as an essential nutrient in the body. It has been historically used as a medicine in many traditional medicinal systems, the researchers note, with Ayurvedic texts as far back as the 14th century recommending its application in various forms: calcified, zinc carbonate, zinc metal, zinc ore, zinc oxide and a copper-zinc alloy -- brass.
Modern scientific studies have supported the use of zinc for boosting immune function in the elderly, reducing infection rates in infants, decreasing the occurrence of diarrhea and removing toxic metals from the body. Studies have found zinc therapy to be helpful for treating gastrointestinal problems, liver disease, diabetes and bacterial and microbial infections. Zinc also acts as an antioxidant, removing damaging free radicals from the body.
Deficiency causes problems across all organ systems
In a press release announcing the study findings, the Indian researchers focused on eight separate systems and conditions where zinc plays a critical role in promoting health:
Brain: Studies have shown that zinc can function as an antidepressant, and that patients with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases have lower-than-average levels of zinc.
Blood Pressure: Zinc has been shown to play a role in regulating blood pressure in arteries. People suffering from hypertension have also been shown to metabolize zinc differently.
Blood Sugar: Zinc plays a key role in the synthesis, secretion and storage of insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. In diabetics, low zinc levels have been linked with higher rates of associated conditions, including high blood pressure (hypertension), coronary artery disease and high triglyceride levels.
Healing: Insufficient levels of zink have been correlated with slower wound healing. Zinc has also been shown to play a key role in healing early gastric ulcers.
Immune System: Zinc deficiency has been linked with reduced activity of the immune organ known as the thymus, where T-cells mature. Deficiency has also been shown to reduce immunity.
Liver: Zinc deficiency has been connected with both alcoholic and nonalcoholic liver diseases, including cirrhosis.
Pneumonia: A 2004 study found that increasing zinc levels in pneumonia patients might speed recovery and shorten hospital time.
Pregnancy: Even very minor zinc deficiencies are linked with worsened maternal and fetal outcomes, including atonic bleeding, inefficient labor, prolonged gestation and abnormal taste sensation.
The researchers also found that zinc played important roles in processes linked to cell injury and inflammation, and that zinc deficiency was connected with lower absorption and metabolism of vitamin A.
Are you getting enough?
In spite of all the critical functions played by zinc, the researchers estimate that half of the world's population is at risk of not getting sufficient levels through their diets.
Zinc is typically found in foods high in protein, and protein also improves the body's absorption of the mineral. The highest levels of zinc are found in meat-derived foods, with zinc concentrations between 0.40 and 6.77 mg per 100 g. Grains have a zinc content nearly as high as that of meat, at 0.30 to 2.54 mg per 100 g. In contrast, fruits contain only 0.02 to 0.26 mg per 100 g and vegetables contain 0.12 to 0.60 mg per 100 g. Dairy products have concentrations of 0.36 to 0.49 mg per 100 g.
Although meat is considered the best source of zinc, vegetarians can still get higher levels of the mineral from high-protein vegetable foods, such as legumes, nuts, seeds and oatmeal. In addition, fermentation increases the availability of zinc in some foods, such as soy (consumed as miso or tempeh) and some grains (consumed as leavened breads).