Zinc is an essential mineral that many people don’t often think about; whether they are eating foods that are good sources of zinc, or whether or not they are getting enough. There is of course, lots of attention on the minerals calcium and magnesium, but zinc is often overlooked. Indeed, a mineral balance which includes zinc is required for optimal human health.
This metal has been known since ancient times and was used to make brass when it was combined with copper. It has many uses, both industrial as well as in human physiology, healing and skin care.
The Various Roles Of Zinc
Zinc plays an important role in the body, and when there is a deficiency, a number of different symptoms, some of which can be quite severe, may become evident. While most who enjoy a Western diet are not at risk of grave deficiencies, it is estimated that over a billion people world wide don’t get enough in their diet and suffer a variety of diseases as a result. It’s a very important mineral and helps regulate enzymatic activity (100+ different enzymes). It is also known to be important for the following:
- Wound healing
- Fetal development during pregnancy
- Normal physical development of children of all ages
- Ensuring a strong immune system
- Normal sexual development in adolescents
- Development of and maintenance of taste and smell senses
- Normal libido in both men and women
Signs Of Zinc Deficiency
While a deficiency is uncommon in North America and other western cultures, it can occur especially in older individuals who may not be eating a diet with sufficient amounts of the mineral. As well, a deficiency is associated with those who have a high regular alcohol consumption as alcohol can interfere with absorption. And because the body does not store zinc, it must be consumed through diet or supplementation on a daily basis in order to maintain optimal levels.
Signs of a deficiency include hair loss, poor wound healing, eye diseases along with vision problems, impotence, diarrhea, and mental tiredness.
Children who have diarrhea are often prescribed a zinc supplement to help them battle the condition and cure the condition.
Recommended Daily Intake of Zinc
Today, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) are age dependent. AT this time, it is thought that babies require 2 mg per day while healthy adult men need 11 mg. The RDA for adult women is 8 mg while pregnant and breastfeeding adult women and teenagers require up to 13 mg per day.
It should be noted that too much zinc is associated with poor copper absorption and if you are taking a supplement, you may want to discuss this with your doctor and ensure you have a good mineral balance profile including copper.
Special Requirements of Vegetarians For Additional Zinc
Vegetarians are almost certain to not be getting enough of this important mineral if they are not supplementing. While a vegetarian diet does contain some zinc, it is unlikely that it will provide enough of it to meet recommended daily allowances. The foods richest in zinc are seafood and meats. While cashews, swiss chard and legumes also contain zinc, one would need to eat large quantities in order to meet the RDA.
Another problem for vegetarians with zinc is that legumes and other plant foods often contain high levels of phylates that reduce absorption of this mineral. To increase bio-availability of zinc, it is highly recommended that beans be soaked to to the point of beginning to sprout, which reduces the phylate concentrations and will allow for more of the mineral present to be absorbed and used by the body.
Best Forms Of Zinc For Absorption
If you do need a zinc supplement, it is unknown at this time which form is best utilized. We do know that many elemental forms of minerals are not always absorbed efficiently by the human body, and some other forms that include chelation is best utilized. Additionally, some believe that Zinc Citrate and Zinc Glutonate are the optimal forms to take if you are taking it as a supplement.
Inorganic minerals are always difficult for the body to absorb and utilize and for this reason, some doctors suggest that if you are going to take this mineral as a supplement, that you take a variety of forms including the above mentioned citrate and glutanate forms as well as zinc acetate.
Can Zinc Cure The Common Cold?
There has been a great deal of interest in taking additional zinc at the first sign of cold symptoms. While some studies have shown that this has benefits to some patients in both reducing symptoms and length of infection, other studies have been inconclusive as to the effectiveness of zinc on cold viruses.
The studies that have shown promise in using zinc to reduce cold symptoms and length of time or duration of the cold are those that have used lozenges containing zinc glutonate or acetate. It is hypothesized that the mineral needs to spend time in the back of the mouth and throat, where it then acts with the virus and begins to relieve symptoms while also speeding up the healing process.
Of course, having an adequate daily intake of zinc may help to prevent the cold in the first place because of the fact that the mineral plays a very important role in maintaining a healthy immune system.
Prasad AS, Beck FW, Bao B, Snell D, Fitzgerald JT. Duration and severity of symptoms and levels of plasma interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, soluble tumor necrosis factor receptor, and adhesion molecules in patients with common cold treated with zinc acetate. J Infect Dis 2008 ;197:795-802. [PubMed abstract]