What is zinc and why do we need it?
Zinc is a mineral, integral to maintaining the body"s health. It"s also essential, which means that our bodies cannot produce it internally, but it must instead be obtained through diet. Your body cannot store zinc either, and it must be replenished daily to stay in good supply.
Rich sources of zinc include high protein foods such as red meats, nuts, whole grains and legumes, but it is also present in fish and poultry, particularly in the dark meat. While fruits and vegetables do contain zinc, they are relatively poor sources as plant proteins are much more difficult for our bodies to process than those found in animals.
Second only to iron, zinc is the most concentrated mineral found in the body. Unsurprisingly then, getting an appropriate amount of dietary zinc has a wide range of potential health benefits.
Zinc is necessary for:
- proper functioning of the immune system
- cell division and growth
- breakdown of carbohydrates
- the senses of smell and taste
- normal growth and development in pregnant women and infants
- maintaining healthy testosterone levels and spermogenesis
Zinc is also a clinically tested treatment for the common cold, able to mitigate and shorten its symptoms, likely due to its immune-boosting capacity.
What happens if I don"t get enough zinc?
Because zinc plays such a crucial role in so many biochemical pathways, any deficiency affects a wide range of organ systems. These include the skin, the gastrointestinal tract, and the central nervous, skeletal, immune and reproductive systems.
While zinc is present in many everyday foods, even people who eat a varied diet can potentially be getting less zinc than they require. This is particularly the case for those who exhibit one or more of these risk factors:
- pregnancy and breast-feeding
- vegetarianism and veganism
- gastrointestinal disease such as Crohn"s, ulcerative colitis and chronic diarrhoea
- chronic liver and kidney disease
- heavy iron supplementation
Zinc deficiencies first tend to manifest through lethargy, abnormal weight loss or gain, irregular bowel movements, and increased susceptibility to infection and illness. More severe cases can result in hair loss, skin irritation, macular degeneration, loss of taste and smell, and even nerve damage and eventual intellectual disability.