Nutrient Spotlight: Zinc
This essential mineral is a multitasker with many benefits, and one vital role is to strengthen your immune system. Zinc is a requirement for our immune cells to properly form and function, and without enough, their activity slows down. That means we lack our full potential to protect the body from viruses and bacteria. Some of our primary defenders, like specialized white blood cells (lymphocytes, neutrophils and macrophages), that help heal damaged tissues, destroy harmful organisms like bacteria, and resolve infections, depend on zinc.6
How does zinc keep us healthy in addition to supporting our immune system? It has several other important health benefits, such as supporting:
- Wound healing1,2
- Healthy lung function3
- Anti-aging (preserving vision by reducing the risk for age-related macular degeneration)1
- Enzyme function – over 100 enzymes throughout our body that help with processes like metabolism, digestion, detoxification, and maintaining the health of vital organs like our kidney, liver, heart and pancreas.1,7,8
- Bone formation7
- Growth and development for infants, children and adolescents1
- Zinc may also help reduce the risk of developing certain cancers.7,9
Symptoms and risks of not getting enough zinc
It’s critical that we consume zinc daily, because the body doesn’t have a sophisticated storage mechanism for this vital mineral.4
- Stunting of growth in children5
- Increased risk for pneumonia and malaria5
- Loss of taste or smell1
Who’s most at risk?5
- Elderly persons are at risk for zinc deficiency, due to lack of intake in the diet from appetite loss, which is often a side effect of many medications or chronic illnesses.
- Pregnant women have greater needs to support their growing child.
- Vegans who may not be including sufficient sources of plant foods rich in zinc. Plant sources of zinc have lower bioavailability than seafood or other animal-based protein sources, so a person has to consume a lot more to sustain an adequate blood level.
Downside of too much zinc
While zinc deficiency can negatively impact our health, there are also risks associated with too much zinc. Excessive supplementation with zinc could lead to headache, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting, plus make it difficult for the body to absorb other vital nutrients such as iron and copper.5
Food sources of zinc
While meat and poultry are the most prevalent sources of zinc in the American diet, 3 oz of oysters offers 10 times more zinc than 3 oz of beef! Seafood such as crab and lobster, as well as beans (baked, chickpeas), nuts (cashews) and seeds (pumpkin) are also good sources of this important mineral.
- Rink L, Gabriel P. Zinc and the immune system. Proc Nutr Soc 2000;59:541-52.
About Stacy Kennedy