Why the fuss about Zinc?


Zinc has been around forever. And it has always been viewed as a vital nutrient. But since covid hit the scene – zinc has been on the fore front and everyone is telling you to ensure you get in sufficient zinc.


Our bodies do not naturally produce zinc; thus, we need to obtain it from the foods we consume or the supplements we take. It’s also important to take note that our bodies cannot store zinc. Which means that we have to get a constant supply of zinc through our diet. Since excess zinc cannot be stored, it will simply be secreted from the body.


In order to determine if zinc is really that important, we have to take a look at the function of zinc in our bodies. Zinc is required for numerous processes in our bodies, such as: gene expression, growth and development, enzymatic reactions, protein synthesis, DNA synthesis, wound healing and the most well-known one – immune function.


You can get in zinc by taking a zinc supplement or multi-vitamins that contains sufficient zinc. Or ideally you can get your zinc from the foods you consume. Zinc is naturally found in many plant and animal foods. And synthetic forms of zinc can be found in things such as snack bars, cereals, baking flour, etc. Since zinc plays a vital role in immune function, zinc is often added to things like nasal sprays, lozenges and other treatments for colds and flu’s.


As we have established above: zinc is used in several ways in your body and plays a vital role in several body functions. After iron, zinc is the second most abundant trace mineral in your body, and it can be found in every cell of your body.


Zinc is absolutely necessary for the activity of over 300 enzymes which aid in metabolism, digestion, nerve function and many other processes. It is also critical for the development and function of immune cells. And it is also fundamental to skin health, DNA synthesis & protein production. Zinc is also needed for your body’s senses of taste and smell. When you have limited ability to smell and taste things – it might be because of a zinc deficiency.


The most important thing about zinc is probably that fact that it helps to keep your immune system strong! Since it is necessary for cell function and cell signalling - a deficiency can lead to weakened immune response.


According to research; 80-92mg of zinc per day may reduce the length of the common cold by up to 33%. Sufficient zinc also reduces the risk of infection and promotes immune response in older adults. Studies as shown that zinc may significantly reduce your risk of age-related diseases – such as pneumonia, infection and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). As zinc relieve oxidative stress & improves the body’s immune response, it boosts the activity of the T-cells and natural killer cells – which protects our bodies form infections.


Studies have also shown that zinc decreases oxidative stress and the levels of certain inflammatory proteins in our bodies. Oxidative stress (a condition caused by an imbalance between production and accumulation of oxygen reactive species (ROS) in cells and tissues and the ability to detoxify these reactive products) leads to chronic inflammation, a contributing factor to a wide array of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer & mental decline.


Sever zinc deficiencies are vary rare. But symptoms might be impaired growth and development, delayed sexual maturity, skin rashes, chronic diarrhoea, impaired wound healing as well as behavioural issues.


Mild zinc deficiencies are more common – especially in children in developing countries such as Africa – where the children’s diets often lack important nutrients. Although it’s more often found in developing countries, its not limited to those areas. Symptoms of mild zinc deficiency include diarrhoea, decreased immunity, thinning hair, decreased appetite, mood disturbances, dry skin, fertility issues and wound healing.


According to research, there are approximately 2 billion people worldwide with a zinc deficiency as a result of inadequate zinc intake.


Zinc deficiency is difficult to detect using lab tests – due to our bodies’ tight control over zinc levels. Which means that you might be deficient, even when your tests show normal levels. Doctors thus take other risk factors – such as poor dietary intake – also into consideration along with the lab tests, to determine whether you should use zinc supplements.


Foods that are rich in zinc include:

· Shellfish – such as oysters; crab; mussels; lobster & clams;

· Meat – such as beef, pork & lamb;

· Poultry – such as chicken & turkey;

· Fish – such as sardines, salmon, sole and flounder;

· Legumes – such as chickpeas, lentils, black beans & kidney beans;

· Nuts & seeds – such as pumpkin seeds, cashews & hempseeds;

· Dairy products – such as milk, yoghurt & cheese;

· Eggs.


Animal products, such as meat and shellfish, contain high amounts of zinc in a form that your body easily absorbs. Zinc found in plant-based sources such as legumes are less efficiently absorbed, because of other plant compounds that inhibit absorption.


I think it’s safe to say – that we all can agree that we NEED zinc in our daily diets. The fuss is real about zinc haha.


But just as a deficiency in zinc can cause health complications – excessive intake of zinc can also lead to negative side effects. Symptoms of excessive zinc intake can include: nausea & vomiting; loss of appetite; diarrhoea; abdominal cramps; headaches; reduced immune function & decreased good “HDL” cholesterol levels. Consuming too much zinc can also cause deficiencies in other nutrients. In example, excessive zinc intake can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb copper and iron.


We can thus come to the conclusion that adequate Zinc is vital in our daily diets. We should always opt to get our nutrients in from the food we consume. And only when we do not get enough in from our diets, we should consider taking supplements. Supplements should never replace a proper diet.


If you think that you might suffer from a zinc deficiency or even consume excessive zinc – best option would be to consult with a qualified medical professional to give you advise on the correct dosage for your body.

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