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The Basics of Zinc: Health Effects, Benefits and Risks

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Zinc, beneficios

It’s important to know the Basics of Zinc, much like magnesium and iron, is a mineral. And like other minerals, it plays many vital roles in the body. Whether it’s through the derivatives that humans use to shield themselves from the sun, or the food that we eat, it is as if we just can’t get enough of it– and this is for good reason. 

The human body is incapable of synthesizing, or creating, zinc on its own. Because it is unable to naturally produce zinc, humans must obtain it through the food they eat, or, as medical technology has advanced, through a wide variety of supplemental options that are available to them. Here, we endeavor to explain just how relevant zinc is to the human body, going over everything including functions, health benefits, dosage and deficiency information, and the potential side effects of consuming too much zinc. 

Food rich in Zinc
Food rich in Zinc

What is Zinc? 

Zinc is considered an essential nutrient, which is a term that means that, as previously mentioned, the human body is incapable of both producing and storing it. Because of this, it is important for humans to get a constant supply of zinc through their diet. 

In the body, it is found in cells throughout the body. It is needed for the proper functioning of the immune system, as well as both the division and growth of cells. Additionally, it is important for the brain to process the senses of smell and taste. We’ve provided a list of the rest of the processes it has an effect on below: 

  • Gene expression
  • Enzymatic reactions
  • Immune function
  • Protein synthesis
  • DNA synthesis
  • Wound healing
  • Growth and development

Perhaps because of its importance in the proper health of many animals, or because of its ubiquitousness, it is widely available in both plant and animal foods found all over the world. What’s more, in developed countries, those foods that do not naturally contain zinc, such as breakfast cereals, snack bars and even flour are fortified with synthetic forms of zinc. 

However, if even that does not seem like enough– and indeed, there are certainly thousands of people, especially those in countries who do not have the enrichment processes above that suffer from zinc deficiencies each year– there are many supplemental forms of zinc. There are both standalone zinc supplements, and those that contain a variety of nutrients, including zinc. 

Because of its important role in the proper and timely response of the immune system, it is also added, at times, to nasal sprays, lozenges, and other natural cold treatment options. 

Zinc’s Role in the Body

Zinc is a vital material that is used in nearly all of the body’s processes, of which there are thousands, leading to countless ways zinc is needed for proper and healthy bodily processes. In fact, zinc is the second most abundant trace mineral in the body –these are ubiquitous with essential minerals, in the sense that the body cannot properly store or synthesize them– behind iron, and it is present in every cell. 

It is necessary for the activity of over three hundred enzymes, which are natural catalysts that aid in important processes including metabolism, digestion, nerve function, and many more. Additionally, zinc is critical for the function and development of immune cells, including the several forms of white blood cell, and the health of the body’s skin cells, DNA, and proteins. 

Additionally, it plays an important role in the growth and proper division of cells, which means the growth and development from childhood to adulthood. It is also important for the body’s senses of taste and smell. Put simply, this is because one of the enzymes that is responsible for proper tasting and smelling sensations is dependent on zinc. In fact, a zinc deficiency can reduce a person’s ability to both taste and smell. 

The Health Benefits of Zinc

Ever since the formation of the field of biology and nutritionism, people have been studying zinc– and it has been discovered that it carries with it numerous health benefits, which we have tried to outline below. 

  • Zinc Boosts the Immune System
    • Because it is necessary for the function of the immune cells, as well as the signalling between these cells, a deficiency in zinc can lead to a weakened or reduced immune response. 
    • It has been found that zinc supplementation can stimulate certain immune cells in the body, which leads to a reduction of oxidative stress within it. In fact, in a review of seven studies, it was concluded that 80-92 mg of zinc per day may reduce the length of the common cold by up to 33%
    • Additionally, zinc supplements have also been found to significantly reduce the risk of infections and promote immune responses in older adults, who generally suffer from weaker immune systems than younger people. 
  • Zinc Accelerates Wound Healing 
    • For decades, zinc has been commonly used in hospitals as a treatment for many skin injuries– including burns and certain ulcers. This is because zinc plays many critical roles in collagen synthesis, immune function, and inflammatory response. It is necessary for proper healing and a lack of ugly scar tissue. 
    • In fact, the skin alone is responsible for containing a relatively large amount of the body’s zinc content– about 5%. 
    • What’s more, it’s been found that, while a zinc deficiency may slow the rate at which wounds heal, supplementing with zinc can actually speed the recovery times of those people with wounds. It was found in a 12-week study of 60 people with diabetic foot ulcers, that those treated with 200mg of zinc per day experienced significant reductions in ulcer size compared to a placebo group. 
  • May Reduce the Risk of Certain Age-Related Diseases
    • Zinc may significantly reduce the risk of age-related diseases including pneumonia, infection, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is an eye disease that can blur the part of the eye that focuses, which is known as the macula. This is often found in older people, and it is in fact one of the reasons that many people eventually require reading glasses. 
    • It has been found that zinc may relieve oxidative stress, a process that has been mentioned previously– in summary, it does this by boosting the activity of T-cells and natural killer cells, which are responsible for protecting the body from infection.  Additionally, older adults who supplement with zinc experience an improved response to the influenza vaccine, as well as reduced risk of pneumonia and sharpened mental acuity. 
    • In fact, one study determined that 45 mg per day of zinc may decrease infection rates in older adults by nearly 66%. In addition, in a larger study of over 4,200 people, taking daily antioxidant supplements– vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene– plus 80 mg of zinc decreased vision loss and significantly reduced the risk of advanced AMD. 
  • May Help Treat Acne
    • Acne is a common skin disease that is estimated to affect roughly nine and a half percent of the global human population. It has a wide variety of causes, primarily some combination of the obstruction of oil-producing glands, bacteria, and inflammation. 
    • Studies show that both topical and oral zinc treatments can effectively treat acne. They do this primarily by reducing inflammation, inhibiting the growth of P. acnes bacteria, which is one of the causes of acne, and suppressing the activity of oil-secreting glands in the body. Additionally, people with severe acne tend to have lower levels of zinc, perhaps because of the severity of the acne. Therefore, it has been found that supplements may help to reduce these symptoms.
  • Decreases Inflammation
    • Zinc decreases oxidative stress, which can in turn reduce the levels of certain inflammatory proteins in the body. Oxidative stress is essentially an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body’s ability to detoxify their harmful effects through the use of antioxidants. 
    • Oxidative stress leads to chronic inflammation, which is a contributing factor in a wide array of chronic illnesses including heart disease, cancer, and mental decline in older patients. 
    • In a study that was conducted in 40 older adults, it was found that those who took 45mg of zinc per day experienced greater reductions in inflammatory markers than the placebo group observed. 

Zinc Deficiency

It is important to start this section off by stating that a severe zinc deficiency is rare, especially in developed countries, but it is not impossible. It can occur in people with rare genetic mutations, breastfeeding infants whose mothers do not intake enough zinc, those with alcohol addictions, and anyone taking certain immune-suppressing medications. 

Because zinc is so important for a wide variety of bodily functions, the symptoms of a severe zinc deficiency are felt all throughout the body. These symptoms can include impaired growth and development in the case of young children, as well as delayed sexual maturity, skin rashes, chronic diarrhea, impaired wound healing and behavioral issues. However, these symptoms are only found in those with extreme zinc deficiencies. Milder forms are more common, and these usually include some smaller form of the above symptoms– they are especially found in children that live in countries where diets are often lacking a wide variety of nutrients. 

It is estimated that there are around 2 billion people worldwide– or, conservativey, a bit less than a quarter of the global population, are deficient in zinc due to an inadequate dietary intake, whether that is due to a lack of food or an unvaried diet. Since zinc deficiency impairs the immune system (specifically, it increases the risk of infection), zinc deficiency is thought to cause close to half a million deaths in children under five every single year. 

Those at risk of zinc deficiency include: 

  • Those with gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn’s disease, which make it more difficult for people to intake nutrients. 
  • Vegetarians and vegans
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Older infants who are exclusively breastfeeding
  • Those with sickle cell anemia
  • Those who are malnourished, including those who suffer from anorexia or bulimia
  • Those with chronic kidney disease
  • Those who abuse alcohol

Symptoms of mild zinc deficiency include diarrhea, decreased immunity, thinning hair, decreased appetite, mood disturbances, dry skin, infertility issues and impaired wound healing. It is difficult to detect using laboratory tests, due to the body’s extremely rigorous control over zinc levels. Therefore, you may be deficient even if tests indicate normal levels. 

When doctors are determining whether supplements are right for you, they normally consider risk factors including poor dietary intake and genetics alongside the results of your blood test. However, a low-risk way of ensuring the body gets the zinc it requires is IV Therapy. IV Therapies are a new way of alimentation, giving the body the nutrients it needs to function properly and energizing the body, sharpening the mind with a potent combination of vitamins and minerals with the end goal of increasing immune health.

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