Could you be missing this vital nutrient because of your diet? Find out if you’re not getting enough and missing out on the benefits of zinc.
In today’s 24/7 society of constant connectivity and longer work days, many people are struggling to keep up.
How can you stay on top of your work deadlines, find time to exercise, and have enough energy for family and friend time in the evening?
Fatigue, low mood, frequent colds and flu, and lack of vitality are more and more commonplace. While there are a number of essential vitamins and minerals, there are a select few that influence many key areas of your health. Zinc is one of those “all-star” nutrients.
Almost 20 percent of the population is at risk of overt zinc deficiency, while insufficient intake — a level at which your intake doesn’t meet your daily needs — is seen in almost one out two people. (1)
How important is zinc? It’s involved in over 300 different chemical reactions in the body. From immunity to wound healing, healthy skin to libido, zinc packs a serious health punch.
Here are 23 ways zinc can supercharge your health.
#1 Stops Cold and Flu
If you struggle with catching too many colds or flus, or find you’re always getting sick, then upgrading your zinc intake should be a top priority.
Zinc helps to supercharge the production of your first line of immune defense immune soldiers, neutrophils and natural killer cells, which means more protection for you from nasty bugs. (2)
#2 Supports Robust Metabolism
Whether it’s long days at the office or intense exercise sessions at the gym, stress is one of the primary causes of sluggish thyroid function and weight gain. Prolonged stress can decrease levels of both T4 and T3 thyroid hormone. Ensuring adequate zinc intake can protect against this effect. (3)
#3 Boosts Testosterone
Testosterone is equally important for both men and women. It’s vital for building lean muscle, keeping bones strong, supporting a healthy heart, and boosting libido. Zinc supports the production of testosterone at a cellular levels in the testes in men and ovaries in women if your levels are low. (4)
#4 Improves Blood Sugar
Maintaining steady blood sugar levels throughout the day is a hallmark of good health and maintaining an ideal body composition. Research in children shows increasing zinc intake has a dramatic improvement on fasting blood sugar levels. (5)
#5 Improves Insulin Function
If you’re overweight, out of shape, or in poor health, then you likely have poor insulin sensitivity. Insulin, your blood sugar hormone, has a powerful influence on weight gain and risk of chronic disease. Numerous studies show that zinc plays a key role in improving insulin sensitivity, helping to combat weight gain and chronic disease. (6)
#6 Optimizes Stomach Acid
Your stomach is in charge of breaking down the food you eat so you can absorb all the wonderful nutrients in your meal. This requires robust levels of stomach acid (HCl) to be produced.
Unfortunately, people are so busy at work that they often eat lunch without even leaving their desk, which can hinder HCl output, as can diets low in zinc, which is required to support the parietal cells that produce HCl. Vegetarians typically have lower stomach acid levels than meat eaters, and their diets are also lower in zinc. (7)
#7 Improves Fertility
If you’re trying to conceive, and you want to keep your “swimmers” strong (or your partner’s) then ensuring adequate zinc status is very important. Add some of the zinc-rich foods at the end of this post to increase your intake to improve fertility. (8)
#8 Fixes Acne Problems
Struggling with chronic acne? Nutrient deficiencies and poor nutrient absorption are often overlooked by today’s doctors. The research shows a strong correlation between low levels of zinc and increased severity of acne. (9)
#9 Boosts Low Mood
There are many factors that impact low mood and depression. On the nutrition front, correcting low zinc levels has been shown to reduce anger and incidence of depression in young women. (10)
#10 Supports Healthy Growth In Toddlers
Infants and young children are at particular risk of zinc deficiency. (11) If your child is not growing at the same rate as his or her peers, zinc deficiency may be a root cause.
The likelihood of low “height-for-age” in children under 5 years old has been recommended as an indirect indicator of zinc deficiency and when the prevalence of slow growth is greater than 20 percent, the risk of zinc deficiency is elevated. (12)
#11 Acts As Aromatase Inhibitor
If you’ve been struggling with weight gain and have increased belly fat, an enzyme called aromatase ramps up in fat cells that converts your muscle-building testosterone into fat-building estrogen.
The more overweight you are (particularly around the midsection, more commonly seen in men), the worse things get. Zinc acts as an aromatase inhibitor, which blocks this conversion… which is a good thing!
#12 Reduces DHT Levels
Another factor that reduces testosterone levels, particularly in men with male-pattern baldness or significant body hair, is the conversion of testosterone to DHT (dihydrotestosterone).
Like the aromatase enzyme, zinc helps to block the conversion of testosterone to DHT. (13) This is very good news because DHT is a much weaker form of testosterone and doesn’t provide the mood-boosting, muscle-building, or healthy heart-supporting benefits that regular testosterone does.
#13 Speeds Wound Healing
Fall off your bike lately? Snowboarding accident? Or simply cut yourself shaving? Zinc is an essential mineral that supports collagen formation, helping to rebuild tissue and accelerate wound healing. (14)
#14 Stops The Ringing In Your Ears
Tinnitus is the medical term for ringing in your ears. In traditional Chinese medicine, being fatigued or rundown is tops on the list and in clinical practice high coffee intake (inhibits absorption of key minerals, like zinc, when taken with food) is also a primary culprit. The research shows that low zinc levels also may play a key role. Bump up your zinc levels and see if it’s the quick fix you need. (15)
#15 Increases Muscular Strength
Do you struggle with low back pain? How about low vitality and energy? Building strength in the gym is a great way to fight off all of these ailments. (Recall the famous quote… “only the strong survive!”)
If you do start going to the gym, adding more zinc into your nutritional arsenal has been shown to support significant increases in strength. (16)
#16 Supercharges Your Libido
Oysters have been traditionally viewed as an aphrodisiac, boosting libido and sexual vigor. It’s no coincidence that oysters are head and shoulders above all other foods when it comes to zinc status. Low libido? Eat more super zinc-rich oysters!
#17 Reduces Inflammation
If you’re overweight or in poor health, you’re likely suffering from some degree of systemic inflammation. Experts agree that high levels of inflammation are a root cause of many of today’s chronic diseases.
Getting enough zinc in your diet can help reduce pro-inflammatory cytokine molecules and reduce CRP levels in the body, a classic marker for systemic inflammation. (17)
#18 Boosts Brain Function
Interestingly, a significant positive correlation has been found between zinc and BDNF levels, which supports positive mood and brain function. (18) Another great reason to eat steak! (A great source of zinc).
#19 Fights Off Psoriasis
Approximately 7 million adults suffer from psoriasis, a skin condition marked by red, scaly patches that tend to be quite itchy. Topical zinc creams have been shown to be highly effective at reducing local psoriasis. (19)
#20 Protects Against Anorexia
Anorexia is most common among young women, a group that is also at high risk of zinc deficiency, in particular if they’re vegetarian. The medical journal Eating and Weight Disorders found that insufficient zinc intake adversely affects specific neurotransmitters in the brain and that zinc supplementation is able to correct these abnormalities. (20)
#21 Quenches Free Radical Damage
Your cellular membranes are responsible for communication between all the cells of your body, and free radical damage from a poor diet, lack of exercise, or environmental factors constantly cause free radicals — little fires that must constantly be put out by antioxidants. Zinc acts as an antioxidant to protect cell membranes from free radical damage. (21)
#22 Stops Diarrhea In Kids
If your kids are suffering from bouts of diarrhea, zinc supplementation has been shown to be an effective strategy for reducing both the severity and duration of the illness. (22)
#23 Helps Repair Leaky Gut
Zinc has been found to play a key role in protecting against intestinal permeability or leaky gut, a condition where undigested food, proteins, and bacteria from the gut can enter the bloodstream unimpeded, leading to immune system over-activation and possible autoimmune conditions. (23)
How do you know if you may be low in zinc? Common symptoms include poor immunity, low stomach acid, low testosterone levels, white spots on your finger nails, allergies, thinning hair, or acne.
Blood tests for serum or RBC zinc can help identify frank zinc deficiency, while zinc insufficiency is typically seen when lab results show low white blood cell (WBC) counts, as well as low levels of alkaline phosphatase (ALP).
If you want to upgrade your zinc intake, oysters are your best bet. A 3-ounce serving provides 74mg, almost 500 percent of the daily recommended intake.
Beef and crab are the next best, at about 7mg per 3-ounce portion, and other meats like lobster, pork, and chicken provide 3mg per serving. Vegetable sources include cashews and almonds, at 1.6 and 0.9g per ounce.
If you want to upgrade your health, energy, and vitality, then ensuring your body is getting the right dose of the essential mineral zinc — responsible for over 300 key reactions in the body — is an absolute must.
(This article originally appeared on Paleohacks.com)
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS
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