Zinc is an essential trace mineral required for hundreds of processes in the body. While most are the things that just keep you moving and fueled by the food we eat, there are some zinc benefits that you may be able to feel. Zinc benefits the immune system, antioxidant defense system, hormone health, and more.
Zinc benefits the immune system
According to an article in The Journal of Nutrition, “Zinc is necessary for the normal function of the immune system. Even mild zinc deficiency, which is widely spread in contrast to severe zinc deficiency, depresses immunity of humans.”
A zinc deficiency affects several types of entities in the immune system, including large white blood cells that eat foreign bodies before they can do harm and signaling molecules that mediate immunity.
Zinc helps regulate immune response to ensure that inflammation doesn’t get out of control. The immune system responds to infection by creating inflammation. You can see this in the red, swollen skin around a wound. Inflammation is vital to the healing process, but sometimes the immune system doesn’t know when to quit and keeps inflaming, which can be damaging. Zinc helps to modulate the response of certain cells in the immune system so that extra inflammation doesn’t happen.
Zinc also exhibits antioxidant properties, helping to stop the cascading cellular damage known as oxidative stress. Studies have shown that zinc supplementation decreases markers of oxidative stress. Conversely, multiple studies show that zinc deficiency increases oxidative stress.
Zinc’s antioxidant functions are multifaceted. It inhibits the production of a substance that leads to oxidative stress while facilitating the generation of cysteine, which scavenges free radicals.
Zinc supports eye health
“Compared to most other organs, the eye is particularly susceptible to oxidative damage due to its exposure to light and high metabolism,” write the authors of the article “Nutrients for the aging eye” published in Clinical Interventions in Aging. “Zinc is important in maintaining the health of the retina, given that zinc is an essential constituent of many enzymes and needed for optimal metabolism of the eye.”
Another study found that zinc can be beneficial to the retina when taken in modest doses, but can be toxic in high doses.
Zinc helps heal the skin
“Studies dating back to 1970 and earlier have shown the importance of zinc concentrations towards healing wounds in patients with thermal injuries or exposure to surgical stress. Zinc is especially important in skin. Skin contains a relatively high (about 5% of body content) zinc content, primarily associated within the epidermis (50–70 μg/g dry weight). Due to its abundance in the epidermis, mild zinc deficiency is noted to lead to roughened skin and impaired wound healing,” write the author of an article in Nutrients.
Wounds heal in three phases:
- Clot formation that occurs within seconds of the injury
- Inflammation that occurs within minutes or days
- Cell proliferation that starts within a day of the injury and lasts from days to weeks
- Scar formation that starts about 5–7 days after the injury and can last for years
In the first phase, platelets help stop the bleeding and kick off the healing process. Zinc can enhance the activity of the platelets. The inflammation stage is complicated and requires several different types of cells. Researchers have found that zinc deficiency — and sometimes too much zinc — has a negative impact on the function of these cells. Numerous studies have also found evidence that zinc helps various skin cells migrate to the wound site to facilitate repair.
Zinc is required for DNA
You need zinc to make you you. Every cell in your body contains DNA, the genetic code with the instructions of how to develop, reproduce, and survive. Zinc is required to synthesize DNA and more recently scientists have related zinc deficiency to damaged DNA.
Zinc benefits hormone health
Zinc is necessary for proper growth and development from inside the womb through adolescence. More zinc concentrates in the pituitary gland than any other organ, enhancing the gland’s function, including the secretion of growth hormone. Researchers label zinc as critical for normal secretion of growth hormone.
Zinc and testosterone
Zinc is essential for maintaining healthy levels of testosterone. Though the mechanisms for why are not clear, research has demonstrated a correlation between zinc and testosterone levels in both young and older men.
Zinc and insulin
According to multiple studies dating back decades, zinc plays a critical role in synthesizing, storing, and secreting insulin, the pancreatic hormone that signals cells to absorb sugar from the bloodstream.
Zinc and thyroid hormone
Zinc is a vital mineral in the maintenance of healthy thyroid hormone production.
How to get zinc benefits through diet
Eat a lot of oysters. What? Not a viable option to hang out at oyster bars, shucking your meal? Well, a distant second to oysters in the zinc content department are red meat, poultry, and other seafood like shrimp. If you eat those foods — and do not have any conditions or take any medications, like diuretics, that deplete zinc — you should be able to get your zinc fill from diet alone.
Vegetarians and vegans are at risk of zinc deficiency. While numerous plant sources contain zinc, they are less bioavailable than the animal-based sources. Zinc is also often present in foods like legumes and grains that also contain phytates that interfere with zinc absorption.
How to get zinc benefits through supplementation
Be smart. Too much zinc can actually have similar effects on the immune system as depleted zinc levels. So, mega-dosing zinc when you’re feeling under the weather may not be a smart strategy to staying well. Acute zinc toxicity symptoms include nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and abdominal cramps. The conditions you’re probably taking zinc to avoid. Chronic zinc toxicity is also unpleasant and can occur when you take too much zinc on a regular basis. It can interfere with the activity of other metals like copper and iron, and suppress immune system function.
Zinc is easy to find in supplements that do not include a megadose. It’s a common ingredient in multivitamins and in mineral complexes like our Lypo-Spheric® B Complex Plus.