Zinc is essential for many of our physiological functions. It plays a role in immunity, wound healing, growth, development, and more.
Therefore, we must ensure we consume enough of this mineral daily to maintain our health. But how much does the human body need, and where can we find it?
This article explains all about zinc, its uses, and why it is an important addition to vitamin and mineral supplements. Read on for all you need to know.
Benefits of Zinc
Zinc is the second most abundant mineral in the human body after iron. It is found throughout our cells and is essential for numerous aspects of their activity.
The mineral also acts as a cofactor for hundreds of different enzymes, giving it a broad range of functions.
Zinc is found throughout our cells and is essential for numerous aspects of their activity.
One of the best-known zinc health benefits is its role in immunity. However, it is also crucial for protein and DNA synthesis, cell division, healthy growth and development, and wound healing.
It also has a close relationship with insulin and carbohydrate metabolism and influences our sense of taste and smell.
Now, let’s look at some of these functions and how they impact our daily wellbeing in more detail.
Health Benefits of Zinc
Probably the mineral’s best-known function, and one of the primary zinc supplement benefits, is boosting immunity and preventing infections. Therefore, it is a common ingredient in over-the-counter cold remedies.
There is some evidence that using zinc lozenges or nasal sprays within 24 hours of the onset of a cold can reduce symptom severity and duration. These products work by sticking to virus particles in the nose and throat, preventing them from entering the body.
However, there have been reports of some individuals losing their sense of smell after using zinc nasal sprays. Therefore, lozenges may be the better option. It is also vital not to overconsume these products and exceed the recommended daily intake.
Zinc also plays a vital role in wound healing, and zinc oxide has been used for this purpose for centuries. The mineral helps to maintain the integrity of skin and mucous membranes. It is also necessary for collagen production, thus contributing to skin repair.
Another medical use of zinc is as a pediatric diarrhea treatment. The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recommend that children with acute diarrhea take 20mg for 10–14 days (10mg for infants under six months). It could reduce the severity of the episode and prevent further episodes for 2–3 months.
Zinc is also essential for healthy development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence.
Therefore, it is critical to consume enough zinc during these periods to avoid issues such as stunted growth.
Finally, the mineral could be useful in the treatment of Wilson disease. This rare inherited disorder causes copper to build up in the body. Zinc can reduce the absorption of copper, stopping it from accumulating to potentially harmful levels.
Other Zinc Uses
There are multiple other diverse uses of zinc. For example, it is an important component of many metal products. It is also utilized in the rubber, chemical, and paint industries, agriculture, and personal care products.
Zinc Uses in Everyday Life
Approximately 75% of zinc in the metal industry is used to galvanize steel and iron, protecting them from corrosion. It is also used to create alloys such as bronze and brass.
Other everyday uses of zinc include denture creams and some sunscreens. However, the number of zinc-containing denture creams has reduced in recent years due to concerns about excessive intake.
Around 17% of the global population is zinc deficient. However, it is less common in economically developed countries such as the United States.
That said, some groups of people are more likely to develop deficiencies than others. They include people with an inadequate daily intake, reduced absorption, or higher-than-average zinc requirements.
- People with gastrointestinal disorders (ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, etc.)
- Chronic liver or kidney disease patients
- People with sickle cell disease
- People with other chronic conditions (diabetes, cancer, etc.)
- Pregnant women
- Older infants who are exclusively breastfed
- Vegetarians and vegans
- People taking diuretic medication
- People with an inherited condition called acrodermatitis enteropathica
Deficiencies can affect many aspects of health, including the skin, digestive, nervous, immune, skeletal, and reproductive systems. Possible symptoms include:
- Impaired growth and development
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Impaired immunity
- Delayed wound healing
- Hair loss
- Delayed sexual development
- Reduced testosterone production
- Erectile dysfunction
- Eye and skin lesions
- Taste abnormalities
- Mental fatigue
However, some of these symptoms are non-specific and may have other causes. Therefore, thorough investigations are necessary to confirm whether low zinc is involved.
Zinc Daily Dosage
The recommended dose of zinc is 11mg daily for adult males and 8mg for adult females. This figure rises to 11mg and 12mg during pregnancy and breastfeeding, respectively. The body does not store zinc as it does many other trace minerals, so a consistent daily intake is necessary.
However, while consuming enough zinc is critical, it is also possible to overdose. The recommended upper daily limit is 40mg for adults. Doses above this can lead to acute or chronic toxicity.
The symptoms of acute zinc toxicity include:
- Appetite loss
- Abdominal cramps
These symptoms generally occur within a few hours of overconsuming zinc and resolve by themselves once intake ceases.
If an individual takes high doses of zinc (60mg or more) for a prolonged period, it can lead to copper deficiency. Therefore, anyone consuming large amounts for medical reasons should consider a copper supplement.
Other possible issues include altered iron function, impaired immunity, and urinary disorders.
Zinc Supplements and Food Sources
Zinc can be found in various foods. Oysters are the best source, but Americans get most of their zinc from meat and poultry.
There is also zinc in whole grains, nuts, beans, and fortified cereals. However, plant-based sources also contain compounds called phytates, which reduce zinc absorption.
Therefore, vegetarians and vegans need to consume more zinc than meat-eaters to meet their daily needs. In fact, experts estimate that those eating plant-based diets may require 50% more zinc on average.
It is possible to improve the bioavailability of zinc in grains, nuts, and beans by soaking and germinating them. The leavening process in bread-making can also reduce phytate content, making bread one of the better sources.
For people who do not get ample amounts of the mineral from their diets, zinc food supplements can offer an alternative. They come in several forms, including zinc gluconate, sulfate, and acetate. There is currently no evidence to suggest that one is more effective than the others.
Finally, zinc can interact with several medicines, including antibiotics, penicillamine, and high-dose iron supplements. Therefore, individuals should leave several hours between taking zinc supplements and other medications.
Final Thoughts on Zinc
Zinc’s health benefits are numerous, and it is crucial to consume adequate amounts each day. Most people can get enough from their diets, although some groups of people may find supplements helpful.
Most people can get enough from their diets, although some groups of people may find supplements helpful.
That said, it is possible to take too much zinc, leading to unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects. Zinc can also interact with several other medications and supplements. Therefore, it is always advisable to consult a healthcare provider before use.