Zinc in Diet: Properties and Benefits

Zinc in Diet: Properties and Benefits

Zinc is much more than the element you saw in your chemistry classes in Mendeleev’s famous “Periodic Table of the Elements”, with atomic number 30 and symbol Zn. Moved into the realm of health, it is an essential mineral for your body to perform all normal functions. It has been well studied, and its deficiency is the cause of many diseases. Bear in mind that it is essential to have the right amount of zinc.

Zinc allergies

What is zinc?

One of the basic trace elements in all living things, that is the simplest way to define it. You must supply your body with zinc every day through nutrition.

It plays an essential role in the immune system and in energy production. To give you an exact idea, suffice it to say that it contributes to the formation of thyroid and sex hormones, promotes muscle development, promotes wound healing and prevents hair loss.

It is the second most important trace element in the body after iron. Determinant for health, sportsmen and athletes, vegans or vegetarians and pregnant women need an additional amount of zinc, which is also required for the functioning of many enzymes.

Do you now understand why zinc is said to be one of the vital trace elements that your body needs to receive on a daily basis?

Do you know its properties in depth?

By way of introduction, keep in mind that zinc is involved in many chemical processes in the body. The role it plays in the digestion of carbohydrates, proteins and fats can be described as essential
It is an essential mineral found in all the organs, tissues and body fluids involved in the production of body energy, in the formation of tissues and in the building of muscle. It promotes the rapid healing of wounds and acts as an anti-inflammatory agent.

Zinc energy

Strengthening the immune system is considered another of zinc’s strengths.

Necessary for the formation of white blood cells, it is involved in the formation of thyroid hormone, insulin and testosterone and strengthens bones. In the area of beauty, skin, hair and nails are favoured by zinc.

What are the natural sources of Zinc?

Zinc is found in many foods, particularly in foods of animal origin such as red meat, poultry and meat products. Fish and seafood, oysters in particular, contain generous amounts of this mineral.

Check out the list of zinc-rich foods we have prepared for you in another of our posts and learn how to identify which culinary delights have the highest concentrations of this unparalleled mineral.

What is this essential mineral used for?

Your body needs zinc for the functioning of more than 300 enzymes involved in the synthesis of carbohydrates, fats, nucleic acids and proteins. Apart from the other factors already mentioned, one of the positive effects of minerals in general, and therefore of zinc, is that it strengthens the immune system, encouraging the formation of white blood cells, insulin and sex hormones. An example of this is the relationship between zinc and increased testosterone.

Its deficit contributes to the development of many diseases, so it should be stopped in time, through food and/or supplementation.

Benefits of the essential trace element

Why is zinc important?

You will be surprised by the many beneficial functions of zinc for your health. For, however insignificant it may seem, every component of the body has an important activity in it, which is part of the complex and perfect mechanism of human nature. Zinc is a good example of this. We tell you about its main benefits, rescued from dozens of them:

1. Promotes immunity and reduces the risk of infection

Zinc helps you fight the toxins and foreign substances that threaten your immunity. At the same time, it is essential for the development of T-cells, which are designed to fight virus-infected cells and cancer cells.

Overall, a zinc deficiency compromises your natural immune defences and makes you more vulnerable to disease.

In clinical conditions associated with immunodeficiency (infections), zinc supplements can restore lymphocyte production.

The supplementation route has proved particularly beneficial in people suffering from Acrodermatitis Enteropathica (a hereditary syndrome caused by a genetic disorder), who suffer from frequent infections. In these cases, supplementation at therapeutic doses has achieved a complete recovery.

Many studies have also shown that breastfed children in developing countries who have been treated with supplementation have reduced the duration, severity and frequency of acute and chronic diarrhoea, as well as acute lower respiratory tract infections and even malaria.

Similar benefits have been found in other infectious diseases such as dysentery, leprosy, leishmaniasis, tuberculosis, hepatitis C and the common cold.

However, too high levels in the body can suppress immunity. High doses reduce various immune functions (activation of lymphocytes and neutrophil phagocytosis).

Zinc for athletes

2. Keeps blood sugar stable

Insulin is the hormone responsible for keeping blood sugar levels stable, so it is crucial to overall health. Zinc plays an equally important role in the synthesis, storage and release of insulin in the pancreas.

This is why insufficient zinc tends to negatively affect insulin levels, which can trigger negative changes in appetite and blood sugar levels.

A clinical study revealed that pre-diabetic patients are particularly prone to developing a deficiency. Other studies have found high rates of deficiency in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Finally, there is no lack of studies suggesting that fasting zinc supplementation reduces blood glucose levels, improving insulin sensitivity, in both humans and animals with diabetes.

In addition, zinc reduces the severity of diabetic neuropathy (nerve pain), oxidative stress and cholesterol and triglyceride levels in type 2 diabetics.

3. Zinc and its antioxidant power

Did you know that zinc exerts an impressive antioxidant power on your body? It is a mineral that stimulates the creation of new proteins (cell renewal), intervenes in the fight against free radicals and in the synthesis of enzymes, favours the good condition of the skin and mucous membranes and provides the skin with tone and elasticity.

A “concentrate” of goodness that justifies it being one of the most powerful antioxidants in existence, protecting you from oxidative damage to your cells.

In fact, zinc forms part of the enzyme superoxide dismutase, which is responsible for eliminating the radicals which accelerate the ageing process, and protects the DNA and the cell nucleus. In addition, it is essential for the functioning of vitamin A.

Zinc antioxidant

4. Makes digestion run smoothly

Zinc works with proteins in all organs, collaborating with hundreds of different enzymes in various processes, one of which is digestion.

It acts as a co-factor in a multitude of gastrointestinal activities, which means your body would not be able to digest food and absorb nutrients properly without its presence.

It’s not uncommon for symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea to be mistaken for gluten intolerance-style problems. Instead, you can try adding the foods that contain the most zinc to your diet, such as seafood, red meat or certain nuts, and the results may surprise you.

5. Zinc helps you to savour your meals

As most taste receptors are located in the nasal cavity, the two senses are closely related. Zinc is a cornerstone for the complete functioning of taste perception, so if at any time you find that you are no longer able to taste or smell food as you once did, there is a possibility that your zinc levels are low.

This symptom gradually takes over and is subtle, so the best way to catch it is by engaging in conscious eating.

Zinc strengthens cognition

6. Strengthens cognition and protects neurons

Zinc supplementation has been shown to improve cognitive recovery, mainly in people who have had an ischemic stroke.

A double-blind study in children confirmed that zinc supplementation improves neuropsychological performance and, in particular, attention and reasoning skills.

Another randomised study showed that zinc supplementation in infants and young children improves activity, motor quality and mental development.

On the other side of the coin, zinc treatment protects against cognitive impairment in older people with Alzheimer’s, reducing the levels of copper in the blood, a toxic element for the brain.

Many animal studies indicate that zinc is neuroprotective and helps learning and memory functions, provided it is administered in moderate concentrations.

Experiments carried out on mice with Alzheimer’s have shed light on the fact that reduced treatment with supplements improves the pathological symptoms associated with the progression of the disease, such as the development factor of BDNF (brain-derived neutrophic) and mitochondrial function.

In the chapter on maternal supplementation, it succeeded in improving memory and spatial learning.

Zinc benefits heart surgery

7. Prevents against heart disease

Continuing with the list of zinc’s health virtues, we must stop at the studies that allude to the fact that the level of people who suffer from atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, heart attack, chest pain or other heart diseases, tends to be low.

Moreover, there is a clinical study that found heart failure to be closely related to zinc deficiency. Another study showed that high doses are able to prevent and treat angina in patients with atherosclerosis.

Although research in people is still in its infancy, there is evidence that these supplements protect the heart from a stroke, in the case of rats and mice.

8. Increases male fertility and reproductive health

The concentration of zinc in the semen is related to an optimal level in the wiggle, viability and motility of the spermatozoa. The reason? Probably the role played in stabilising cell membranes and DNA (by reducing oxidative damage), helping to form new spermatozoa and strengthening spermatogenesis.

Furthermore, the stimulating effect on testosterone helps increase libido and sexual functioning in men with erectile dysfunction who often have low testosterone levels.
And an interesting fact: clinical studies have shown that a sufficient supply of zinc in the diet, in combination with selenium, significantly reduces the risk of prostate cancer. This information must be treated with caution, but is undoubtedly positive.

9. Zinc strengthens the bones

Numerous clinical studies have shown that zinc increases bone density, formation and thickness, preventing bone loss.

In mouse osteoblast cells (bone-forming cells), treatment enhanced both bone activity and bone formation.

Another study in healthy men showed the ability of zinc supplements to increase bone marrow markers, i.e. ALP, BAPE and BAP-M.

Similarly, the trace element in question can suppress bone fracture in bone marrow cultures from mice, inhibiting bone fracture markers such as parathyroid hormone and PGE2.

Such data lead to the conclusion that zinc protects against multiple bone-related complications in humans and animals.

Zinc child growth

10. Avoiding complications during pregnancy

Are you pregnant? Then you should know that low blood zinc levels are linked to complications during pregnancy, such as miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, abnormal development of the foetus, prolonged pregnancy or premature birth of the baby.

Several studies have shown that maternal supplementation, in those women who are deficient or underweight, reduces the risk of premature delivery, while protecting against harm to the fetus from exposure to alcohol.

One trial among Indian women concluded that mothers who took a zinc supplement had longer gestations and their babies reached a healthier weight.

Another study of pregnant participants found that taking zinc supplements (25 mg/day) during the second half of pregnancy resulted in increased weight and head circumference of the baby at birth.

Experts relate these favourable effects to the ability of this mineral to inhibit embryonic cell death, which reduces growth (IGF, PDGF and FGF are some examples) and prevents oxidative damage, contributing to the development of a healthy fetus.

Other health benefits

Did you think you had read all about the health benefits of zinc? We could talk about dozens and dozens of favourable properties of this trace element for your organism, but we thought it reasonable to make a list of the main ones. We hope it will help you to assimilate the extent to which it can promote your physical well-being.

Here are the most obvious!

  • Prevents graft rejection and autoimmunity
  • Combat allergy and asthma
  • Prevents the onset of colds
  • Accelerates wound healing and tissue recovery
  • Zinc as an anti-inflammatory agent
  • Intervenes in the treatment of mental disorders
  • Help in cases of autism
  • Relieves stress and improves mood
  • Zinc is anti-microbial
  • Serves to control cell death
  • Can prevent other diseases
  • Stimulates development
  • Supports the treatment of epilepsy and prevents seizures
  • Improves the quality of sleep
  • Protects the intestine
  • Stimulates appetite
  • Enhances skin health
  • Psoriasis and eczema, which benefit greatly from zinc
  • Improves symptoms of kidney disease
  • Prevents hair loss
  • It is hepatoprotective
  • Helps to lose weight
  • Combats fatigue
  • Promotes the right hormonal environment
  • Zinc improves sports performance
  • Controls blood clotting
  • Benefits women’s health
  • Zinc for pain relief
  • It is used for the treatment of hearing problems
  • Zinc can extend life
  • Reduces the side effects of chemotherapy
  • Stimulates thyroid function
  • Prevents the appearance of blindness
  • Reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome
  • Protects against radiation
  • Improves mitochondrial function
  • Reduces body odour
  • Helps treat arsenic poisoning
  • Can mitigate cystic fibrosis
  • Zinc to reduce opiate dependence
  • Improve oral health

Zinc allergies 1

Do you have any side effects or contraindications?

There is little doubt that the consumption of this mineral is recommended to prevent metabolic deficiencies, although an excess of zinc is not advisable, as far from multiplying its goodness, it tends to produce side effects, among which the following stand out:

  • Stomach aches or pains
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Drowsiness
  • Slightly inflamed throat

However, as long as you do not exceed the recommended daily amount of zinc in adults of 10 mg, you should not have any problems because, in adequate doses, zinc is a totally safe substance. If you are in any circumstances subject to a higher requirement for this substance, make sure you are supervised by a doctor.

Warning! An excess of zinc could also lead to a deficiency of copper, which in turn could lead to anaemia or cardiac arrhythmia, and is therefore not at all advisable.
Surprised by the amount of health benefits of zinc? For our part we are delighted to have been the bearers of good news in this regard. All that remains to be said is that if you have any questions about this essential mineral, we are here to answer them!

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About Carlos Sánchez
Carlos Sánchez
Carlos Sáchez is passionate about nutrition and sports. With a Degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics, he always tries to give a practical use to different theories.
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