Why Your Body Needs Zinc -- and Top Zinc-Rich Foods

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This unsung dietary hero is so essential your cells wouldn't know what to do without it. Read on to learn why zinc is one mineral you just can't afford to miss

Zinc is an important trace mineral found throughout your body, second only to iron in its prevalence in human cells and tissues. Zinc plays a part in critical processes like wound healing, immune system response and functions such as cellular growth and repair.

There's even an established link between zinc levels and respiratory health, giving zinc added importance during cold and flu season and whenever your body is under stress.

Zinc: Why You Need It

Have you ever wondered why people take zinc lozenges at the first sign of a cold? Evidence suggests that supplementing with zinc within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms may help shorten the length of colds.[i] Oral supplementation in the form of zinc lozenges, capsules and syrup are preferable to intranasal zinc, which has been linked with loss of sense of smell in some individuals.[ii]

Another function of zinc is the regulation of metabolism. Found in more than 300 enzymes, zinc is critical to digestion, including the absorption and metabolism of essential micronutrients.[iii] Zinc deficiency can lead to malnutrition, which is an important problem worldwide.[iv]

Adequate zinc intake is especially important for children of all ages, and if you are pregnant or lactating. Deficiency of zinc during formational times could lead to retarded growth of biological systems like the gastrointestinal tract and skeletal, immune and reproductive systems.[v]

Top Zinc-Rich Foods

Unlike iron, which is contained inside cellular components in your body, zinc permeates cells and tissues, performing critical structural, catalytic and regulatory functions. This is why getting adequate intake of zinc through your diet or supplementation is so important.[vi]

Safeguarding against zinc deficiency means having a varied diet fortified with zinc-rich foods. Proteins like pastured beef and poultry, and sustainably harvested, wild-caught fish and oysters are all good sources of this essential mineral. Vegetarian sources include organic cereals, beans, nuts, oats and tofu.

While adults and seniors have the same average physiologic requirements for zinc, absorption can decrease as you age. High-quality, bioavailable supplements can ensure that you meet your body's unique needs, especially during times of increased stress or poor eating.

Zinc: A Very Precious Metal

Research into zinc's importance has identified several beneficial mechanisms through which zinc, a group 2B metal, can act on the human body:[vii]

  • Antioxidant properties, protecting cells from damage by free radicals
  • Stabilizes organelles, structures within a cell that control functions like growth and energy production
  • Anti-apoptotic agent, protecting cells from death
  • Important cofactor in the synthesizing of DNA strands
  • Vital component of wound healing
  • Anti-inflammatory agent

These vital functions make zinc supplementation important for anyone facing illness. For asthmatics and sufferers of respiratory tract infections, zinc may be one of your best dietary defensive strategies.

Zinc for Respiratory Health

A 2021 study, published in the journal BMJ Global Health, identified acute respiratory tract infections (ARIs) as a leading cause of illness and death worldwide.[viii] Meta-analysis of random effects of zinc supplementation were conducted to estimate the pooled effects of supplements of vitamins D and C, zinc and multiple micronutrients (MMS) on the occurrence of ARIs and the duration of ARI symptoms.

Results of multiple studies showed that vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of ARI and shortened duration of symptoms by a value of -6%. Vitamin C had the same effects to a degree of -9%, with a greater effect among men than women, and in middle-income countries compared to high-income countries. While zinc in isolation did not reduce the risk of ARIs, it significantly decreased the duration of ARI symptoms.[ix]

Takeaways from this important micronutrient study spotlight the need for a varied, vitamin-rich diet and regular sun exposure or a high-quality, bioavailable supplement combining vitamins C and D with zinc and essential micronutrients for the greatest degree of protection for your lungs and airways.[x]

Ingesting too much zinc also carries risks; taking oral zinc in high doses over long periods may lead to copper deficiency.[xi] Symptoms of low copper levels include numbness and weakness in your extremities. The National Institutes of Health considers supplementation at 40 milligrams of zinc per day to be the upper limit for adults.[xii]


References

[i] Mayo Clinic, Drugs & Supplements, Zinc, https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-zinc/art-20366112

[ii] Mayo Clinic, Drugs & Supplements, Zinc, https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-zinc/art-20366112

[iii] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Chapter 16. Zinc, https://www.fao.org/3/y2809e/y2809e0m.htm

[iv] Roohani N, Hurrell R, Kelishadi R, Schulin R. Zinc and its importance for human health: An integrative review. J Res Med Sci. 2013;18(2):144-157. PMID: 23914218

[v] Roohani N, Hurrell R, Kelishadi R, Schulin R. Zinc and its importance for human health: An integrative review. J Res Med Sci. 2013;18(2):144-157. PMID: 23914218

[vi] Roohani N, Hurrell R, Kelishadi R, Schulin R. Zinc and its importance for human health: An integrative review. J Res Med Sci. 2013;18(2):144-157. PMID: 23914218

[vii] Truong-Tran AQ, Carter J, Ruffin R, Zalewski PD. New insights into the role of zinc in the respiratory epithelium. Immunol Cell Biol. 2001;79(2):170-177. doi:10.1046/j.1440-1711.2001.00986.x

[viii] Ajibola Ibraheem Abioye, Sabri Bromage, Wafaie Fawzi. Effect of micronutrient supplements on influenza and other respiratory tract infections among adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Glob Health. 2021 01 ;6(1). PMID: 33472840

[ix] Ajibola Ibraheem Abioye, Sabri Bromage, Wafaie Fawzi. Effect of micronutrient supplements on influenza and other respiratory tract infections among adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Glob Health. 2021 01 ;6(1). PMID: 33472840

[x] Ajibola Ibraheem Abioye, Sabri Bromage, Wafaie Fawzi. Effect of micronutrient supplements on influenza and other respiratory tract infections among adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Glob Health. 2021 01 ;6(1). PMID: 33472840

[xi] Mayo Clinic, Drugs & Supplements, Zinc, https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-zinc/art-20366112

[xii] Mayo Clinic, Drugs & Supplements, Zinc, https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-zinc/art-20366112

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.
Sayer Ji
Founder of GreenMedInfo.com

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