Zinc – why we need this vital mineral

We have approximately 2-3g of zinc distributed throughout our bodies. Zinc is an essential component of over 20 enzymes associated with many different metabolic processes including growth and reproduction, vision, physical and mental stress, taste and smell, immune health, diabetes, anorexia, hormones, prostate health as well as other protective functions as discussed below.

Symptoms of low zinc levels include: pregnancy complications including miscarriage and birth defects, suboptimal child growth, loss of taste and poor appetite, lethargy and apathy, frequent infections and white spots on fingernails.

The best food sources: Zinc is especially plentiful in meats, poultry (particularly dark meat), fish and seafood (especially oysters), liver, eggs, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, cashews, almonds, legumes, beans and whole grains. (About 73% of the zinc is removed from whole grains when it’s milled to produce white flour). Our bodies can’t store zinc so make sure the zinc-rich foods mentioned above are part of your daily diet! Our bodies can’t store zinc so make sure these foods are part of your daily diet.

Growth and reproduction: zinc is critical in the synthesis of RNA and DNA.

Vision: zinc is involved in the activation of vitamin A, thereby is a factor in night vision and is also an antioxidant which may protect vision by reducing damage from free radicals.

Physical and mental stress: zinc levels fall after physical and mental stress. Strenuous exercise significantly decreases zinc levels.

Taste and smell: zinc is especially important in the gastrointestinal system (it’s needed to make stomach acid) and taste buds (an early sign of zinc deficiency is loss of taste and smell).

Bone health: high concentrations of zinc are found in our bones and appear to play a role in increasing bone density.

Immune system: zinc boosts the immune system and stimulates healing.

Diabetes: diabetics tend to have less zinc in their tissues.

Anorexia nervosa: zinc supplementation may be helpful both in treatment and prevention.

Hormone levels: zinc inhibits the production of prolactin. Elevated prolactin levels can lead to secretion of breast milk, enlarged breasts, sexual dysfunction and breast cancer.

Prostate gland: low zinc levels appear to be associated with diseases of the prostate gland.

Other protective functions: zinc protects the liver from damage due to poisoning from common cleaning solvents and prevents absorption of lead and cadmium.

Written by

Claudia Williamson Registered Nutritional Therapist DipION, FdSc, mBANT, mCHNC Tunbridge Wells, Kent