Minerals are the absolute foundation of health, literally the bedrock substance of our physical existence. Zinc is undoubtedly one of our most important minerals. When I say ‘essential for every cell’, I mean it really is in every cell of our bodies, and is used every time our cells replicate, which is, literally, all the time. Zinc is critical for enzymes that look after our DNA, and you don’t get much more essential than that!
It’s not unusual to be a bit low in zinc. This can have huge consequences though when you consider the importance of this mineral. While severe zinc deficiencies are not so common, many people do not have optimal levels of zinc, which can manifest in any of the following ways:
- Impaired smell or taste- things just don’t taste as strong or flavoursome as they once did
- Increased incidence of infection (of any kind), and longer to recover – zinc is really important for immune function
- Poor wound and tissue healing- you’re the one whose cuts and scratches take months to heal up
- Low appetite
- Poor growth
- Hair loss
- Hormonal problems, reproductive or fertility issues in both men and women
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Disturbances in mood, sleep or behaviour
- Skin conditions such as pimples, acne, psoriasis, eczema etc
- Mouth ulcers
- Inflammatory conditions
- Night blindness, macular degeneration.
You may notice that many of the conditions outlined above are common both in children and in the elderly- and it is indeed true that both groups can commonly have low zinc status.
In summary, if someone presents to me in the clinic complaining of poor immunity, frequent infections, or has skin problems of any kind, I will be looking into their zinc levels. Zinc is vitally important for immunity, but especially the immune function of our mucous membranes- skin, mouth, gut, lungs, sinuses etc.
Teenagers with acne are often low in zinc because of rapid growth and sometimes poor dietary choices. Zinc is essential to treat acne because it is important for immunity, skin, hormones and healing, all key components of addressing underlying factors contributing to acne.
Some other situations where zinc is called for are those where there is increased need for cell replication, tissue growth and repair:
- Pregnancy – zinc supplementation definitely improves pregnancy outcomes
- After surgery or physical trauma – zinc is necessary for the synthesis of proteins and for cell growth, supplementation can decrease healing times
Additionally, zinc should be looked at when diets may not provide adequate zinc levels. Zinc is high in seafood, fish red meat. It is also high (but less available) in pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, nuts and grains. Those who may be at risk of low dietary intake include vegetarians and vegans, and also children and the elderly. People with absorption or bowel difficulties will be at risk for low zinc also: diarrhoea, inflammatory bowel disease, coeliac disease, alcoholics, diabetics. Therapeutic uses of zinc extend well beyond what I have outlined thus far. Clinical trials have shown positive results for Alzheimer’s Disease, for Wilson’s Disease, and many other conditions.
Zinc is best taken on its own, away from fibre-rich foods, calcium and iron. It may however cause a slight nausea when taken on an empty stomach, so before bed may be the best time for some people to take it.
This is just scratching the surface of the importance of zinc! Zinc is an incredibly safe nutrient to take and almost everyone should look into whether their zinc levels are optimal. It is a simple matter to supplement with zinc when it is necessary, and may just put a few things right in your body before they even go wrong!