Most of you wonder on what is zinc good for. Apart from the obvious uses of zinc in automobile and cosmetic industry, you’ll be surprised to know that even our body needs small amounts of zinc daily. Zinc performs various body functions like scavenging free radicals, immune reactions, hormonal balance, and fertility.
It also protects us from the ravages of time like graying of hair, diminished vision, and heart problems. If you’re not able to get a well-toned muscular body even after spending hours in the gym or if you get tired easily then, you might want to check your serum zinc levels.
Some other signs of zinc deficiency to look out for are infertility, delayed wound healing, and hair loss. Let’ see in detail what is zinc good for.
1. Strengthens immunity and wards off the common cold
Zinc deficiency has been linked to increased incidence of intercurrent infections in many countries. Low zinc serum levels not only predispose us to a variety of illnesses, but it also increases the mortality associated with these diseases. (1)
A study conducted by the Medical Educational Centre of Chandigarh, India found that administration of zinc within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms of the common cold shortened the duration of the illness by a few days. (2)
Zinc hinders the process by which rhinovirus (the most frequent cause of the common cold) damages the lining of our nose and produces mucus.
Since, zinc and rhinovirus act on the same receptor (ICAM-1 receptor), zinc supplementation for 5-6 months can effectively minimize the incidence of the common cold. (3)
2. Reduces oxidative stress
Zinc has potent anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant activity which lowers the burden of damaging free radicals and reactive oxygen species. Regular zinc intake and adequate zinc stores reduce the incidence of infectious and auto-immune diseases and even some cancers.
A clinical study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine in which 50 adults after taking daily zinc supplementation showed a lower incidence and diminished intensity of some infections.
These benefits can be attributed to zinc’s ability to ward off oxidative stress molecules and inflammatory cytokines. The group who got placebo was more susceptible to illnesses, and there were more free radicals in their tissue. (4)
Zinc promotes our pancreas to store insulin (glucose-lowering hormone) adequately by forming a stable complex with it. When glucose enters our body after a meal, granules containing insulin and zinc are released, and glucose levels are alleviated. (5)
Zinc’s anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties play a significant role in protecting the islet cells of the pancreas which are involved in insulin production.
Zinc supplements reduce the morbidity and mortality of diarrhea to a great extent. In low-income and developing countries, zinc therapy for diarrhea is gaining momentum due to its low cost and high efficacy.
A research article published in the International Journal of Epidemiology revealed that zinc reduces the mortality associated with diarrhea by 23 percent. (6)
5. Promotes a healthy cardiovascular system
Zinc is required to maintain the endothelial lining (innermost layer) of blood vessels, and it also supports healthy circulation by boosting the heart to work better.
Since it minimizes the levels of harmful free radicals, it delays atherosclerotic plaque (leads to heart attack and stroke in old age) formation in vessels. Zinc has therapeutic benefits in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol as well.
Testosterone, the male sex hormone, is required for healthy sperm production and libido. The female sex hormones – estrogen and progesterone regulate the production of eggs in the ovaries and also make the uterus ready for child-bearing.
Zinc regulates the production and functioning of testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. Its deficiency leads to infertility and pregnancy problems like spontaneous abortion, prematurity, and retarded growth. (7)
7. Increases essential hormones in the body
Zinc not only improves the production of reproductive hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone but it also expands the pool of growth hormone and somatomedin C (insulin-like growth factor).
A study on 13 children aged 7 to 13 years showed that lower hair zinc levels corresponded to stunted growth. When these kids were given zinc supplements, their growth improved and the serum levels of growth hormone, testosterone, and somatomedin C increased. (8)
Testosterone promotes a healthy reproductive system and behavior for both, men and women. In females, if the levels of estrogen and progesterone were disturbed, menstrual abnormalities, mood swings, infertility, early menopause, and the risk of certain cancers would increases.
8. Enhances exercise tolerance and energy
Zinc promotes the breakdown of protein and carbohydrates into amino acids and glucose respectively, and hence, accelerates their absorption from the gut.
It also helps the body cells to utilize these molecules and extract energy. Lower serum zinc levels lead to chronic fatigue and reduced tolerance to exercise.
Since zinc plays an active role in cellular growth and division, it helps in muscle building and repair. It also increases the release of insulin-like growth factor and growth hormone, and hence, increases muscle mass.
Nowadays, zinc-containing supplements are taken by bodybuilders and those who follow a high-intensity workout.
Other uses of zinc
Zinc plays a central role in the treatment of a variety of illnesses some of which are mentioned below – (9)
1. Wilson’s disease
In Wilson’s disease, the amount of free copper in our body increases and lead to various problems like liver failure and muscle stiffness. Zinc (Zn+), being a bivalent ion like copper (Cu+), reduces its absorption from the intestine and also controls copper’s release from our body stores.
Topical zinc application in addition to the conventional treatment regimen of acne (antibiotics and vitamin A) leads to faster remission.
3. Age-related vision loss
Research shows that daily supplementation of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc reduces the chances of acquiring age-related vision loss by 25 percent. (10) The anti-oxidant property of these healing compounds confers their protective action.
4. Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD)
Zinc is a cofactor for essential enzymes and metalloenzymes in our body, especially the brain. Lower serum zinc levels are associated with mental deficits like ADHD in children.
Zinc supplements on top of the routine medications like methylphenidate fasten the recovery to normal health. (11)
Diminished serum levels of zinc due to either dietary insufficiency or malabsorption (secondary to alcoholism, chronic illnesses, and aging) can predispose us to depression. (12)
Thus, zinc can be given as an adjuvant to people taking anti-depressants in cases resistant to conventional therapies.
Recommended daily allowance of zinc
The dietary intake of zinc based on age and gender as suggested by the United States Department of Agriculture is as mentioned below. (13)
- 0-6 months: 2 mg/day
- 6-12 months: 3 mg/day
- 1-3 years: 3 mg/day
- 4-8 years: 5 mg/day
- 9-13 years: 8 mg/day
Adolescents and adults –
- 14 years and over (males): 11 mg/day
- 14-18 years (females): 9 mg/day
- 19 years and over (females): 8 mg/day
- Pregnant females: 11 mg/day
- Lactating females: 12 mg/day
If you are not able to meet your daily zinc requirements, you may take supplementary zinc tablets. Out of all the compounds of zinc available (gluconate, sulfate, citrate, and acetate), zinc gluconate has the maximum bioavailability. (14)
Major sources of zinc
You can obtain adequate zinc levels by consuming a balanced diet every day. Zinc is present in a variety of foods of plant and animal origin.
However, plant products contain phytates and oxalates which make compounds with zinc, and hence, zinc is unavailable to us. The diverse sources of zinc are mentioned below for you to add in your recipes – (15)
- Oyster – 74 milligrams per 3 ounces (493 percent DV)
- Grass-fed beef – 7 milligrams per 3 ounces (47 percent DV)
- Chickpeas – 1.3 milligrams per ½ ounce (9 percent DV)
- Cashews – 1.6 milligrams per 1 ounce (11 percent DV)
- Yogurt – 1.7 milligrams per 8 ounces (11 percent DV)
- Pumpkin seeds – 1.6 milligrams per ¼ ounce (20 percent DV)
- Alaska king crab – 6.5 milligrams per 3 ounces (43 percent DV)
- Kidney beans – 0.9 milligrams per ½ ounce (6 percent DV)
- Lobster – 3.4 milligrams per 3 ounces (23 percent DV)
- Pork – 2.9 milligrams per 3 ounces (19 percent DV)
Signs and symptoms of zinc deficiency
Zinc deficiency is commonly seen in people following a vegetarian or vegan diet, i.e., there’s no intake of animal or dairy products in their food. Women who are on birth control pill or hormone replacement therapies are also at an increased risk.
A leaky gut or diseases hindering the absorption of food are significant factors in lowering serum zinc values. Some common signs and symptoms associated with zinc deficiency are –
- Fatigue and reduced exercise tolerance
- Hair loss
- Abnormal bowel movements (diarrhea)
- Altered perception of taste and smell
- Delayed wound healing (especially in diabetic ulcers)
- Diminished concentration
- Hormonal imbalance (hot flushes, mood swings, etc.)
Precautions while using zinc supplements
High amounts of zinc in our body alter the absorption of other minerals like copper. In the long run, this leads to copper deficiency causing a myriad of signs and symptoms like impaired immunity, premature graying of hair, anemia, and increased sensitivity to cold.
Within three to ten hours of ingesting zinc tablet, you may experience abdominal cramps, constipation, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms will go away in some time without any medication.
Topical application of zinc in the form of a gel or nasal spray alters your senses like smell, taste, etc. for some time. You don’t need to worry about these side-effects as they are not permanent and will recede with time.
Final words on what is zinc good for
By now you must have understood what is zinc good for. The benefits of zinc outweigh its side effects, and hence, it forms an essential part of our diet.
Zinc supplements help to ward off many diseases like diabetes, the common cold, Wilson’s disease, depression, infertility, and even some cancers. Its anti-oxidant and immunity boosting activities make it an ideal addition to your stores of micronutrients.
If you want to replenish your body stores of zinc, specific food items like oysters, grass-fed beef, king crab, soya beans and yogurt need to take center stage in your recipes.
However, too much zinc consumption can be deleterious to your health so, take timely precautions and consult your physician if you experience any of the aforementioned adverse effects.