Zinc Health Benefits
Zinc is one of my favourite super important trace nutrient that has many essential roles in the body. It plays a crucial structural role in skin health and collagen production, hormonal health, fertility and reproduction and immune health, as well as impacting on thyroid hormones, insulin and neurotransmitter production. Zinc can also influence cognition, learning, mood and behaviour. It is involved with countless enzyme pathways, and being a kind of catalyst it can initiate and support many key cellular processes, including detoxification and digestion.
Zinc has also been getting some extra good press lately, due to an increasing number of doctors across the globe using zinc supplements alongside other drugs or nutritional medicines to treat Covid-19. Zinc appears to be able to block an important pathway that the virus uses to replicate and so can be considered to have antiviral actions. See this video for more info.
Zinc has many important roles for human health and deficiency of zinc is a well recognised problem in many countries throughout the world. Zinc is especially crucial at times of rapid growth demands, particularly during childhood, adolescence, pregnancy and lactation.
Signs of zinc deficiency can range from delayed growth in children, poor wound healing, poor appetite, loss of taste or smell, recurrent infections, behavioural and learning issues, brittle hair and weak nails (white spots on nails).
Foods rich in zinc
Zinc containing foods include pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, legumes, dairy foods, eggs, red meat and chicken (especially thigh. However the highest source of zinc is found in oysters, having around 10 times as much zinc as red meat. I love how some foods in nature really have a high affinity for and can consolidate a particular nutrient.
It is essential to note that the absorption of plant sources of zinc are inhibited by phytic acid. This chemical component that stores a plant’s phosphorus, strongly binds zinc in the digestive tract and makes it harder for us to obtain the zinc found in plants.
Soaking, sprouting and fermenting grains, seeds and legumes can all help to break down phytic acid and make the zinc in these foods more bio-available. Likewise, it has been shown that protein can enhance zinc uptake, and other nutrients such as vitamin B6 and manganese can be required to help utilise zinc in the body. It is important to note that iron supplementation will decrease zinc absorption as well.
Zinc is a trace nutrient that is stored readily in the body and taking supplements when not required can potentially disrupt other important nutrients. While not 100% accurate, blood tests checking serum or plasma levels of zinc are currently our best method to check for potential deficiency and can help ascertain the need for extra zinc.
There are many types of zinc supplements available but it is important to know that their bio-availability can vary widely. Some types of zinc supplements are poorly absorbed, while others are much better. The molecule attached to the zinc needs to be a type that enable the zinc to be assimilated. I find amino acid chelates, glycinates, piccolinates and sucrasomal forms are best, but different types are more suited to some people. Also, some zinc supplements can make people feel a little nauseas (especially if zinc sulphate), especially when taken on an empty stomach, though the sensation and discomfort passes fairly quickly and poses no problem.
So all in all, it is a good idea to aim to get sufficient zinc from your diet every day. Supplementation may be needed when under stress, for children and adolescents during rapid stages of growth, for pregnant and breastfeeding women, for those suffering from skin disorders like acne, psoriasis or eczema as well as for supporting immune issues, such as colds and flu.
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.