Zinc: Do You Need More?
Zinc is a trace mineral that is vitally important to your health. It is used in over 300 different enzymatic reactions throughout the body. That means, if you are even marginally deficient in zinc, your whole body will suffer. Zinc plays important roles in growth and development, healthy immune response, neurological function, reproduction, digestive and thyroid health, plus more.
Unfortunately, it is estimated that many are still lacking in this essential mineral. Soil that once used to provide plenty, is becoming depleted of zinc and other minerals due to conventional farming. Plus alcohol, stress, and some medications easily deplete zinc. If your stores of zinc are too low, you might notice a long list of symptoms. Some common things affected by zinc deficiency include:
Immunity – Perhaps you have taken zinc lozenges when you felt a cold coming on. That is because zinc is very important for a healthy immune system. It plays a key role in activating important white blood cells, called T cells, that destroy infected cells. For this reason, susceptibility to frequent colds or bacterial infections may be an indication that you need more zinc. Due to its immune boosting properties, zinc supplements can often help bacterial issues such as acne vulgaris, dandruff, and body odor as well.
Mood – Researchers have observed low serum blood levels of zinc in those with depression and conclude zinc deficiency likely contributes to a chronically poor mood. Shrinkage of the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with emotion, memory and learning, is observed in Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Scientists believe that zinc protects the hippocampus from inflammation due to emotional stress. Plus, it can activate the production of BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), a key substance needed to ward off brain inflammation and depression.
Digestion – Zinc is one of the essential nutrients required to maintain healthy digestion and nutrient absorption. It plays vital roles in maintaining a healthy gut lining (preventing leaky gut), creating stomach acid, and making digestive enzymes by the pancreas. Zinc is also essential for proper appetite control by reducing inflammation in the gut. In older adults, a population particularly at risk for zinc deficiency, extra zinc can help to improve a weak appetite. There are many nutrients required to maintain a healthy digestive system, but zinc certainly makes the list.
Thyroid – Zinc is also a necessary cofactor for optimal thyroid function. It plays a role in making thyroid releasing hormone (TRH) in your brain, which signals your pituitary to make thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). Low zinc is also associated with low T3 (active thyroid hormone) and a reduced ability to convert T4 to T3 (also requires selenium). Therefore, with low levels of zinc, you are likely to experience many of the characteristic symptoms of a low thyroid: sluggish metabolism, cold hands and feet, and thinning hair. Zinc also helps thyroid hormone bind to the DNA receptors inside cells, called “zinc fingers”. If you are lacking in zinc, your body can’t utilize thyroid hormone, even if you have adequate blood levels.
Do You Need More Zinc?
While zinc is found in a variety of foods like shellfish, pumpkin seeds, nuts, legumes, eggs, and red meat, it is difficult to absorb from plant sources and many Americans don’t eat enough seafood to get adequate zinc every day. Marginal zinc deficiency is still fairly common today. Strict vegetarians and vegans, pregnant women, older adults (65+), people with digestive conditions, and those who drink alcohol or sweat frequently are particularly at risk for low zinc levels.
It is estimated that nearly 2 billion people worldwide are affected by a zinc deficiency, so eating a healthy diet may not be enough. Also, higher amounts (25-75mg per day) can be beneficial for improving the symptoms above. If you notice white spots on your nails or any of the above symptoms, consider a high quality zinc supplement and see your health improve.