Health and Nutrition Articles

Zinc: An Essential Trace Element

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Zinc Overview

Zinc is the second most abundant trace element (next to Iron) in the body, and is found in every cell and tissue. Because of this, rarely do people think of being deficient in zinc, but many experts suggest that over 12% of Americans and as many as 40% of the elderly are deficient in zinc.

Although the recommended and actual amount of zinc that our bodies need is quite small, zinc's effects on the body are astronomical.

Zinc plays a very important role for multiple functions in our bodies, including the immune, gastrointestinal, central nervous, reproductive, skeletal, and integumentary systems. Zinc also is involved in several aspects of cellular metabolism, and plays an important role in protein synthesis, wound healing, cell division and DNA synthesis

Zinc also supports proper development and growth during pregnancy, infancy, and adolescence.

Importance and Benefits of Zinc

If you read the paragraphs above, you can easily see that zinc has a major and important role in our bodies. In fact, zinc has more biological roles in our bodies, than all other trace elements combined! It plays a crucial role for things such as:

  • Cell Growth and Repair
    Most of the body's zinc is found in our muscles and bones-over 90% . Zinc helps build muscle and repairs muscle after exercising or weight training. Often times, the strain you put on your muscles during strenuous activity causes tears in the tissue; the muscles use trace elements like zinc to repair the tears in the tissue, which allows the muscle to grow. Besides the muscles, zinc's cell growth properties can also help maintain the integrity of the skin and mucosal membranes. Since it's essential for cell growth, it also makes it essential for development in infants, children and teenagers as well.
  • Immune System Health
    One of the most common symptoms of zinc difficency is frequent colds and illness. In order for the body's immune system to do its job, it needs zinc. According to Dr. Mercola "Zinc is directly toxic to cold viruses and stimulates your body to produce antibodies to destroy the virus." Often, older adults and children in developing countries who have low levels of zinc have a higher risk of getting infections and pneumonia.
  • Fertility and Prostate Health
    Zinc plays an integral role in fertility, sperm production, and the male hormonal system. Studies have also shown that zinc protects the prostate gland from infection and prostate enlargement. The prostate tissues heavily rely on zinc to maintain its health and integrity, and inadequate zinc levels could potentially lead to a decrease in testosterone, prostate enlargement, baldness, and prostate cancer.
  • Maintaining Our Sense of Smell and Taste
    Many studies have shown that zinc deficiency can contribute to a loss of smell as well as taste. Having a diet high in zinc or supplementing with zinc can even restore the sense of taste and small in individuals who may have lost it.
  • Age-Related Macular Degeneration
    Age-related macular degeneration is an eye disease when the part of the retina that is responsible for central vision starts to deteriorate. Studies have shown that maintaining adequate zinc levels reduces the genetic risk of age-related macular degeneration. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, a major clinical trial, the Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS1), found that people who had macular degeneration could slow down the damage by taking zinc (80 mg), vitamin C (500 mg), vitamin E (400 mg), beta-carotene (15 mg), and copper (2 mg).
  • Oxidative Stress and DNA Repair
    According to Dr. Mercola zinc plays an important role in protecting your body against oxidative stress and DNA repair. Factors like pollution, obesity, or mental stress, can cause an excess of free radicals in your body, which is associated with oxidative stress and various chronic diseases and aging. If you are deficient in zinc, our bodies may become less able to repair genetic damage caused by oxidative stress. Studies have shown that having low levels of zinc has been found to cause strands of DNA to break, and have linked zinc deficiency to various types of cancer, infection, and autoimmune diseases.
  • Many Other Health Concerns
    Many other studies and research has shown that zinc may also support or limit many other health issues and diseases, including, acne, diarrhea, Sickle Cell Disease, stomach ulcers, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), cold sores, HIV/Aids, Celiac Disease, Autism, and Lyme Disease.

Zinc Deficiency

While zinc deficiency is much more common in the developing world, it has become a growing concern in the US and more developed countries, especially when it has been connected with certain health implications such as infectious disease, immune function, DNA damage and cancer.

Part of the problem, especially in developing countries, is that many people do not eat enough zinc-rich foods, or consume too many foods the inhibit the absorption of zinc (especially diets high in foods containing phytates and foods like cereals, corn, rice and whole grains).

Another problem is that many researchers know little about the mechanisms that control zinc's absorption, its complete role in the body, or even how to accurately test for a deficiency.

Are You Deficient in Zinc?

Zinc deficiency symptoms is often characterized by frequent colds and infections, loss of appetite, and delayed sexual maturation and development. In severe cases, zinc deficiency may also cause diarrhea, hair loss, skin lesions, declined or delayed development in motor and cognitive function, severe eye conditions, and reduced fertility. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, weight loss, delayed healing of wounds, taste abnormalities, and mental lethargy can also occur. Most of these symptoms are non-specific and can be associated with other health issues, so it's always important to get a medical examination to determine whether a zinc deficiency is present.

Like we mentioned earlier, people with inadequate diets in zinc or diets that contain foods that inhibit zinc absorption are often at greater risk of developing zinc deficiency. You can also be at a greater risk if you:

  • Havegastrointestinal and digestive disorders
  • Are avegetarian
  • Arepregnant or lactating
  • HaveSickle Cell Disease
  • Are analcoholic

Recommended Intakes of Zinc

The dietary intake of zinc depends on the composition of your diet, as well as your age, gender, and disease status. The Office of Dietary Supplements recommends the following levels:

Recommended Zinc Dietary Allowances
Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
0 to 6 months 2 mg 2 mg - -
7-12 months 3 mg 3 mg - -
Children 1-3 years 3 mg 3 mg - -
4-8 years 5 mg 5 mg - -
9-13 years 8 mg 8 mg - -
14-18 years 11 mg 9 mg 12 mg 13 mg
19+ years 11 mg 8 mg 11 mg 12 mg

Zinc Food Sources

Although zinc is available in a variety of foods, only about 15-40% of the zinc we eat actually gets absorbed in our bodies, and the rate of absorption becomes less as we age. So, it is important that your diet is getting enough zinc in your diets, especially if you are older.

As recommended by the Office of Dietary Supplements,some of the best food sources of zinc include:

Selected Zinc Food Sources
Food Approximate Milligrams (mg) per serving % Daily Value
Oysters, cooked, breaded or fried, 3 oz 74 493
Beef chuck roast, braised 3 oz 7 47
Crab, Alaska King, cooked 3 oz 6.5 43
Beef patty, broiled, 3 oz 5.3 35
Breakfast Cereal, Fortified with 25% of the DV for zinc, 3/4 serving 3.8 25
Lobster, cooked 3 oz 3.4 23
Pork chop, loin, cooked, 3 oz 2.9 19
Baked Beans, canned, plain or vegetarian, 1/2 cup 2.9 19
Chicken, dark meat, cooked, 3 oz 2.4 16
Yogurt, fruit, low fat, 8 oz 1.7 11
Cashews, dry roasted, 1 oz 1.6 11
Chickpeas, cooked, 1/2 cups 1.3 9
Oatmeal, instant, plain, prepared with water, 1 pkt 1.1 7
Milk, low-fat or non-fat, 1 cup 1.0 7
Almonds, dry roasted, 1 oz 0.9 6
Kidney Beans, cooked, 1/2 cup 0.9 6
Chicken breast, roasted, skin removed, 1/2 breast 0.9 6
Cheese, cheddar or mozzarella, 1 oz 0.9 6
Green peas, frozen, boiled, 1/2 cup 0.9 3
Flounder or sole, cooked 3 oz 0.3 2

About Zinc Supplements and Zinc Products

Many supplements and products we carry contain several forms of zinc, including zinc acetate, zinc aspartate, zinc sulfate, zinc gluconate, zinc picolinate, zinc citrate, zinc oxide, and zinc amino acid chelate. The percentage of zinc varies by form, and is usually appears on the Supplemental facts described on the bottle.

Most research has not determined whether there is differences in absorption, tolerability, etc among the different forms of zinc. We have many zinc products available in capsules, lozenges, softgels, tablets, and vcaps. We also offer liquid zinc and zinc cream. To order zinc products and for more information, check out our Zinc Category Page.

Zinc Side Effects and Health Risks from Excessive Zinc Intake

Ever heard the saying, "you can never have too much of a good thing?" Well, be aware that too much zinc (past the suggested upper limit of 40 mg) can cause:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • abdominal cramps
  • diarrhea
  • headaches

Excessive zinc intake can also cause copper deficiency, which can lead to anemia, and actually increase the risk of prostate cancer in men, and impair immune function. Zinc nasal spray has been reported to cause severe or complete loss of smell function.

While it is important to maintain proper zinc levels, it is always a good idea to talk to your healthcare practitioner before supplementation to avoid negative interactions with medications (such as antibiotics or diuretics), as well as other side effects.

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Quick Facts

  • Zinc is found in cells and tissues throughout the body
  • Zinc acclerates the activity of about 100 different bodily enzymes
  • One of the most important roles of zinc is to support our immune system, especially when fighting colds and infections
  • Zinc also supports other organ systems in our bodies, including the gastrointestinal, central nervous, reproductive, skeletal, and integumentary systems
  • Zinc also has antioxidant properties, which helps protect cells in the body from damage caused by free radicals
  • During pregnancy, infancy, and childhood, the body needs zinc to grow and develop properly.
  • Zinc also helps support cell regrowth and is important in supporting proper senses of taste and smell.
  • Experts suggest that over 12% of the U.S. population is deficient in zinc, and as many as 40% of the elderly