By: Dr Ameya Tripathi, Bureau Chief-ICN U.P.
LUCKNOW: Zinc is a nutrient that plays many vital roles in your body. Because your body doesn’t naturally produce zinc, you must obtain it through food or supplements. Like many macro and micro nutrients our general public ignores zinc which leads to its various deficiency related ailments and malfunctions.
This article explains everything you need to know about zinc, including its functions, health benefits, dosage recommendations and potential side effects. Zinc is a mineral. It is called an “essential trace element” because very small amounts of zinc are necessary for human health. Since the human body does not store excess zinc, it must be consumed regularly as part of the diet. Common dietary sources of zinc include red meat, poultry, and fish. Zinc deficiency can cause short stature, reduced ability to taste food, and the inability of testes and ovaries to function properly.
Zinc is used for the treatment and prevention of zinc deficiency and its consequences, including stunted growth and acute diarrhea in children, slow wound healing, and Wilson’s disease. Zinc is also used for many other conditions. There is some scientific evidence to support its use for some of these conditions. But for most, there is no good scientific evidence to support its use.
Note that many zinc products also contain another metal called cadmium. This is because zinc and cadmium are chemically similar and often occur together in nature. Exposure to high levels of cadmium over a long time can lead to kidney failure. The concentration of cadmium in zinc-containing supplements can vary as much as 37-fold. Look for zinc-gluconate products. Zinc gluconate consistently contains the lowest cadmium levels.
Zinc is a chemical element with the symbol Zn and atomic number 30. Zinc is a slightly brittle metal at room temperature and has a blue-silvery appearance when oxidation is removed. It is the first element in group 12 of the periodic table. Zinc is an essential mineral, including to prenatal and postnatal development. Zinc deficiency affects about two billion people in the developing world and is associated with many diseases. In children, deficiency causes growth retardation, delayed sexual maturation, infection susceptibility, and diarrhea. Enzymes with a zinc atom in the reactive center are widespread in biochemistry, such as alcohol dehydrogenase in humans. Zinc makes up about 75 ppm (0.0075%) of Earth’s crust, making it the 24th most abundant element. Soil contains zinc in 5–770 ppm with an average 64 ppm. Seawater has only 30 ppb and the atmosphere, 0.1–4 µg/m3. The element is normally found in association with other base metals such as copper and lead in ores Zinc is a chalcophile, meaning the element is more likely to be found in minerals together with sulfur and other heavy chalcogens, rather than with the light chalcogen oxygen or with non-chalcogen electronegative elements such as the halogens.
Why it’s important for our body?
Zinc is needed for the proper growth and maintenance of the human body. It is found in several systems and biological reactions, and it is needed for immune function, wound healing, blood clotting, thyroid function, and much more. Meats, seafood, dairy products, nuts, legumes, and whole grains offer relatively high levels of zinc.
Zinc deficiency is not uncommon worldwide. Symptoms include slowed growth, low insulin levels, loss of appetite, irritability, generalized hair loss, rough and dry skin, slow wound healing, poor sense of taste and smell, diarrhea, and nausea. Moderate zinc deficiency is associated with disorders of the intestine which interfere with food absorption (malabsorption syndromes), alcoholism, chronic kidney failure, and chronic debilitating diseases.
Zinc plays a key role in maintaining vision, and it is present in high concentrations in the eye. Zinc deficiency can alter vision, and severe deficiency can cause changes in the retina (the back of the eye where an image is focused).
Zinc might also have effects against viruses. It appears to lessen symptoms of the rhinovirus (common cold), but researchers can’t yet explain exactly how this works. In addition, there is some evidence that zinc has some antiviral activity against the herpes virus.
Low zinc levels can be associated with male infertility, sickle cell disease, HIV, major depression, and type 2 diabetes, and can be fought by taking a zinc supplement.
Boosts Your Immune System
Zinc helps keep your immune system strong. Because it is necessary for immune cell function and cell signaling, a deficiency can lead to a weakened immune response.
Zinc supplements stimulate particular immune cells and reduce oxidative stress.
For example, a review of seven studies demonstrated that 80–92 mg per day of zinc may reduce the length of the common cold by up to 33%.
What’s more, zinc supplements significantly reduce the risk of infections and promote immune response in older adults
Accelerates Wound Healing
Zinc is commonly used in hospitals as a treatment for burns, certain ulcers and other skin injuries. Because this mineral plays critical roles in collagen synthesis, immune function and inflammatory response, it is necessary for proper healing. In fact, your skin holds a relatively high amount — about 5% — of your body’s zinc content. While a zinc deficiency can slow wound healing, supplementing with zinc can speed recovery in people with wounds.
May Reduce the Risk of Certain Age-Related Diseases
Zinc may significantly reduce your risk of age-related diseases, such as pneumonia, infection and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Zinc may relieve oxidative stress and improve immune response by boosting the activity of T-cells and natural killer cells, which help protect your body from infection (13Trusted Source).
Older adults who supplement with zinc experience improved influenza vaccination response, reduced risk of pneumonia and boosted mental performance.
In fact, one study determined that 45 mg per day of zinc may decrease infection rates in older adults by nearly 66%. Additionally, in a large study in 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 up to 9.4% of the global population. Acne is driven by obstruction of oil-producing glands, bacteria and inflammation.
Studies suggest that both topical and oral zinc treatments can effectively treat acne by reducing inflammation, inhibiting the growth of P. acnes bacteria and suppressing oily gland activity. People with acne tend to have lower levels of zinc. Therefore, supplements may help reduce symptoms.
As we see that there is plethora of functions performed by zinc.it deserves a detailed article on each and every aspect. We will be having subsequent parts dealing in details about physiological functions, mechanism of action, dietary requirements, deficiencies and their treatment in detail. Stay tuned for Zinc part 2.
Dr Ameya Tripathi is celebrated dental surgeon, social worker, writer, dental Implantologist working at Rama Dental Clinic & Implant center Mahanagar Lucknow and Gomti Nagar Lucknow as its director. His works can be visited at DENTAL CLINIC LUCKNOW