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Zinc is an essential mineral which we need to consume on order to support structural, catalytic, and regulatory functions within the human body. Although severe deficiency is rare, many people within our western society are deficient. When you lack enough zinc, you can inhibit growth, experience complications during pregnancy, increased risks of infections, and reduce immune support.
What is Zinc?
Zinc is an essential trace element that is consumed through our diet. Besides iron, zinc is the most common mineral found throughout the body, appearing in just about every cell. Since ancient times, this element has been used to boost immune function, heal wounds, improve reproductive success, and improve thyroid function.
Since this mineral has antioxidant properties, zinc helps protect the body against free radical damage. Free radicals contribute to a wide range of health complications, such as the aging process itself, cancer, and heart disease. Antioxidants work by destroying free radicals, preventing damage.
When you consume zinc-rich foods, your body tends to absorb 20 to 40 percent of the zinc present in that food. Zinc from red meat, poultry, and fish tend to be absorbed better than plant sources. Also, protein needs to be consumed with zinc in order for it to be absorbed effectively.
The best sources of zinc include oysters, red meats, cheese, shrimp, crab, and shellfish, as well as legumes, whole grain, greens, mushrooms, tahini, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds. If you are not getting enough zinc in your diet (less than 40 percent of Americans are getting enough), then supplementation is a great option.
Benefits of Zinc
There are a wide range of benefits associated with zinc, including:
Age-related macular degeneration
In order to slow down the progression of AMD, doctors often recommend zinc. This disease occurs when part of the retina that’s responsible for central vision begins to deteriorate. It was found that when taking 80 mg of zinc, 500 mg of vitamin C, 400 mg of vitamin E, 15 mg of beta-carotene, and 2 mg of copper, participants in a major study slowed down the progression and damage.
When symptoms of a cold arise, taking zinc lozenges can reduce the duration and severity of symptoms. Although not all studies agree, most do support this idea. In one study, participants were either given a zinc lozenge (13.3 mg) or a placebo. Those who took zinc saw symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat, and coughing disappear faster than those who took a placebo. Zinc nasal sprays are more controversial and should be avoided unless recommended by your doctor.
While focusing on zinc supplements, not lozenges, they may help reduce your risk of developing a cold in the first place. Within one study, elderly individuals in a nursing home who were given normal levels of zinc experienced less pneumonia and needed fewer antibiotic prescriptions.
When children experience low levels of zinc, this may create symptoms like hyperactivity, impaired socialization, and impulsivity. Zinc supplements may also be helpful to children who have a high body mass index, and get low levels of zinc and fatty acids in their diet.
Improved Athletic Performance
When you have higher levels of zinc in your body, you’ll often experience a boost in both strength and performance. This is due to zinc’s role in hormone production. Research has shown that getting enough zinc, increases testosterone and growth hormones.
It’s also believed that zinc enhances the conversion rate of both testosterone and androstenedione. When paired with intense exercise, the body produces testosterone at an even higher rate. Of course, muscle growth and performance levels are critical for athletes, but zinc also aids in recovery.
For women, zinc has been linked to the growth process of the egg. When deficient, the egg will not mature properly and ovulation will be affected. In turn, this creates issues surrounding fertility. Increasing one’s intake will ensure that there’s enough estrogen in the body. Remember, always take as directed because excessive estrogen can have the opposite effect.
Possible Side Effects
Research has reported that 40 mg a day is a safe amount to be taken over an extended period of time. When combining zinc with multivitamins and additional zinc supplements, this does raise concerns about a potential increase for prostate cancer. This effect has been linked to high doses over an extended period of time. More specifically, taking 100 mg of zinc daily for ten years or longer, has been linked to double the risk.
More common side effects include nausea, upset stomach, vomiting, and a metallic taste. At high doses, some users have experienced headaches, dizziness, sweating, alcohol intolerance, hallucinations, and anemia. At very high doses, you can weaken immune function. It’s been reported that single doses of 10 to 30 grams can be lethal.
Available Forms of Zinc
The most easily absorbed forms of zinc are zinc citrate, zinc acetate, zinc picolinate, zinc glycerate, and zinc monomethionine. Zinc sulfate is the least expensive but does come some to have an upset stomach. The amount of zinc will be written on your product’s label, usually ranging from 30 to 50 mg.
If you’re unsure how much you should take, start with a lower dose than recommended by the manufacturer. Remember, you get around 10 to 15 mg from your diet. Speak with your doctor if you’re unsure which supplement or dose is right for you.