From A to Zinc

This Essential Element’s Got You Covered

Feel a cold coming on? Think zinc. Dealing with bouts of acne, loss of vision, taste, or smell? Think zinc. Perhaps you’re struggling with male infertility. Or depression. Again, it's zinc to the rescue! But don't we get enough of this important nutrient just by eating healthy? Probably not. Foods that once contained copious amounts of minerals like zinc are only as nutritious as the soil in which they’re grown, and it’s evident that the health of our soil is rapidly on the decline,1 which means most of us probably aren’t getting optimal amounts of this important mineral.

Zinc and the Immune System

First let’s pay homage to one of zinc’s most important functions in the body—supporting the immune system. One of the primary types of cells activated and supported by zinc are T cells, a type of white blood cell that seeks out and destroys infected cells.2 3 Adequate levels of zinc are essential for T cells’ division and maturation. In the case of a zinc deficiency, T cell development and function is impaired, leading to reduced numbers of this important immune cell.4 5 Zinc gluconate (or any ionic form of zinc) blocks the receptor in the nasal cavity that virus cells attach to, preventing the virus from replicating and establishing infection. Several studies have shown that zinc gluconate lozenges, when taken frequently within 24 hours of the onset of a cold, reduce the duration and severity of the illness.6 7 8 (Note: look for products that do not contain citrate or citric acid as they bind to the zinc, rendering it unable to block viruses.9)

Zinc and Mental Health

Zinc is critical for supporting mood regulation and cognitive function.10 11 In a study of major depressive disorder, lower zinc levels represented a marker of the illness and were correlated with depressive behaviors, ADHD, violence and aggression in children, and impaired learning and memory. Zinc treatment was found to have antidepressant-like and cognitive supporting effects.12 13 14 15 The benefits of zinc can be seen in those who respond to traditional antidepressant therapy, as well as those who do not.16

Zinc and Men’s Health

Zinc is important for male reproductive health through all stages of life. It is essential for normal growth and sexual maturation and for the production of testosterone. Moreover, higher zinc plasma levels correlate with high sperm count and better sperm health.17 As men age, zinc may also play an important role in maintaining the health of the prostate gland, where it is found in very high concentrations.18 19 20

Zinc for the Senses and the Skin

Zinc is important for maintenance of the senses: taste, smell, and vision.xxi Studies show that a zinc-deficient diet correlates to a decrease in taste and smell acuity.21 22 Macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss and blindness among those 50 and older, showed significantly less vision loss after 12 months of zinc supplementation.23 24 Zinc also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, making it a powerful mineral for treating skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, and eczema.25 Topical zinc oxide is used to prevent UV-induced skin damage and may reduce the incidence of malignancies.26 27 28

Zinc Supplementation

Zinc is involved in hundreds of bodily functions and is contained in nearly every cell of the body, making it essential to maintain adequate zinc levels. Vegetarians and those with chronic gastrointestinal disorders should be extra cautious to get enough zinc since they may not get sufficient amounts through diet or due to poor absorption. Athletes, smokers, alcoholics and those under high amounts of stress may require higher amounts of zinc due to higher usage and excretion.29

There have been very few human studies comparing the bioavailability of the various forms of zinc supplements, and of those studies most have been very small and have yielded conflicting results. In general, zinc bound to picolinate, citrate, gluconate, acetate, or amino acid chelates appears to be well absorbed.30 31 In particular, zinc bound to the amino acid methionine, in the trademarked complex OptiZinc®, has some preclinical research to suggest it is well absorbed and utilized by the body and is effective as an antioxidant.32 Naturopathic doctor and author Michael Murray, suggests supplementing with 15 to 20 milligrams of zinc a day for general health and for addressing specific short-term health concerns, between 30 to 60 milligrams a day for men and 30 to 45 milligrams a day for women.33 Finally, be aware that zinc and copper compete for absorption and long-term, high-dose supplementation with either may alter the balance of the other.

Zinc and the Health of Our Soil

Whatever your zinc needs may be, supplementing with this essential element can take over where foods may fall short. According to the book, Cows Save the Planet by Judith Schwartz, soil mineral depletion is on the rise; and with it, micronutrients, including zinc, have declined in our food.34 Some estimate that our food today has just 30 percent of the nourishment of what our grandparents ate as children.35 Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are contributing to the problem of declining soil fertility. But no soil type is exempt. Even in the case of organic farming, the ability to unlock and release minerals from within the soil ultimately depends on the activity of bacteria and fungi present.36 One study examining the relationship between seed micronutrient levels and a trend towards higher yield conventional crops shows a steady regression of micronutrient content. Specifically, zinc levels saw up to a .36 percent decline in seed mineral content year over year.37 While this may seem like a negligible amount at first glance, this translates to more than a 30 percent decline of zinc content in our foods within the last 100 years!38 

Eating high-quality, organic foods is second to none when it comes to taking health matters into your own hands, but supplementing with minerals, like all-encompassing zinc, offers a safety net we can all afford to have.

References Available Upon Request