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Think Zinc for Superbowl-Like Protection

Friday, March 05, 2010 by: Dr. Phil Domenico
Tags: zinc, nutrition, health news

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(NewsTarget) Teams that reach the Superbowl know how to protect their quarterback. The offensive line consists of powerful players that give ball handlers time to make plays. Similarly, front lines in the body protect vital organs and tissues from damage. These systems depend on zinc for optimal function.

Skin is a front line of protection, but diseases like acne breach that defense. Zinc benefits conditions like acne. It helps heal wounds and promotes healthy skin and hair, due to its antioxidant and antibacterial properties and its role in inflammation and repair. Zinc is a cofactor in hundreds of enzymes. The macromolecules of life (DNA, RNA, protein) cannot be made without zinc.

Another front line resides in the gut, where toxins, allergens and invaders are at play. Zinc proteins trap poisons before they enter the bloodstream. A string of zinc ions on a molecule called metallothionein (MT) prevents toxin entry into the body. Several mercury ions can get stuck on one MT molecule and are then eliminated through the feces. Meanwhile, displaced zinc ions from MT activate enzymes involved in inflammation, digestion and repair. This elegant system depends on adequate zinc intake. It also suggests that zinc protects against tainted fish. Zinc carnosine also protects against gut damage from pain medication.

MT proteins are also located in the brain, liver and kidneys, if toxins manage to evade defenses in the gut, lungs or skin. MTs are involved in tumor suppression and oxidative stress and protect against autism, with adequate zinc intake.

MTs also prevent cadmium, silver and arsenic poisoning. MTs also bind copper and may reduce its absorption after long periods of high zinc intake. Normal zinc intake does not affect copper uptake, and taking copper supplements corrects any antagonism. Most multivitamin and mineral supplements are formulated with this in mind. Unrefined organic foods can provide proper mineral balance without heavy metal contamination.

All living things need zinc, which is indispensable for growth and development, immunity, neurological function, and reproduction. Zinc is essential in enzymes like carbonic anhydrase, required for pH balance and gas/fluid/ion exchange; for alcohol dehydrogenase to help detoxify alcohol; and for carboxypeptidase A to break down proteins. Zinc also supports protein structure, as in the antioxidant superoxide dismutase (SOD). Zinc fingers are proteins that dance across DNA to regulate gene expression. Loss of zinc from membranes invites oxidative damage and impaired function. Zinc also influences hormone release and nerve impulses.

Zinc is also important for diabetes. It helps regulate insulin production and sugar utilization. Several zinc-containing enzymes are adversely affected in diabetics, who should probably take zinc supplements and extracts that enhance zinc absorption.

Even mild zinc deficiency can lead to impaired physical/mental development and increased infections in young children. Other people at risk include pregnant/lactating women, the elderly, vegetarians, and malnourished individuals. Severe zinc deficiency is associated with dwarfism, night blindness, rashes, chronic severe diarrhea, immune deficiencies, impaired wound healing, diminished appetite, impaired taste sensation, behavioral disturbances and other serious disorders.

Zinc is found in oysters, beef, beans, mushrooms, soy, nuts, fish, dairy and wheat germ. Grains and legumes contain little zinc and have anti-nutrients that prevent zinc uptake, such as phytate. Sprouting reduces anti-nutrients and increases zinc uptake. High-dose iron can also interfere with zinc absorption.

The best source of zinc is food of animal origin, but enormous quantities may be needed to treat conditions like acne, autism or diabetes. Zinc supplements are often beneficial, especially for people at risk. Like in football, zinc forms a powerful front line, but an entire team of nutrients is needed to achieve Superbowl-like success.


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About the author

Dr. Phil Domenico is a nutritional scientist and educator with a research background in biochemistry and microbiology. Formerly an infectious disease scientist, he now works as a consultant for supplement companies and the food industry.

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