Zinc: The Superhero Nutrient That Can Keep You Healthy and Strong

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Last updated on May 6th, 2023 at 05:56 am

Zinc as a nutrient is one of those nutritional needs of your body which you can not afford to ignore as it is required by your body to function properly because Zinc is needed for robust immunity, healthy bones, and skin. If your diet does not have enough zinc it can negatively affect the reproductive system and brain function. 

Zinc deficiency in your body can lead to several health issues. For example, In children, it leads to loss of appetite, and stunted growth, and in adults, it leads to weaker immunity, and frequent viral infections and can interfere with your sense of smell and taste. 

This article will give you an idea about how you can maintain a healthy intake of zinc through food and other sources in order for you to lead a healthy life.

Zinc is known to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and many of its health benefits are partially due to these very properties of Zinc, which help in cell growth and repair.

What is Zinc Good For?

Zinc is an essential element that is a metal required by the human body to function, it is the functional mineral component of at least 300 enzymes that are produced in our body and are required by our cells, tissues, and other organs to perform normal functions. It also acts as a catalyst for several chemical reactions happening within our bodies. It is needed as a structural element for different proteins and is also required for gene expression, and that is why after iron, zinc is the second most abundant metal (about 2.5 grams in men and 1.5 grams in women) found in the human body, most of which is stored in our bones.

Zinc in baby food is very important, especially for those babies who only have access to breast milk and are not used to drinking baby formula because zinc levels in breast milk are only adequate until the first 6 months after birth. Zinc levels in breast milk start decreasing after the first 6 months of birth. Thus, making it is vital to introduce zinc-fortified foods because zinc is not produced naturally in our bodies.

Zinc RDA

RDA for the uninitiated is Recommended Daily Allowance for a particular nutrient that is required for your body to sustain and maintain itself. RDA is decided by the medical and nutritional agencies of a country. For example, in India it is recommended by the National Institute of Nutrition under ICMR, in the USA it is recommended by USDA/ FDA, and in the countries of the European Union, EFSA has the priority to decide the recommended daily allowance. As RDA differs from one demographic to the other according to their diet and lifestyle, still, it roughly remains the same so if you have access to USA’s RDA while you are ethnically an Indian/European you can go ahead and use that as a reference to your RDA.

For reference, most institutions recommend:

  • 12 mg Zinc per day for Males
  • 10 mg Zinc for females
  • 12 mg Zinc for Pregnant and lactating women

If we compare that with USDA’s revised recommended zinc ‘RDA’ which is 9-11 mgs, it used to be 15 mg, which is almost the same as the dose recommended above.

The upper tolerable limit for zinc is 40mg and if you are taking zinc as lozenges for cough and cold you should not be exceeding this limit as 50 mg of zinc intake daily crosses the upper limit of RDA in almost every part of the world.

However, if you are deficient in zinc and require that you take more than the upper tolerable limit your doctor might prescribe for you 100mg/day for 2-3 months, which is safe for a short period of time, in many studies.

Benefits of Zinc

Zinc as an Immunity Booster:

Zinc is an essential trace element that is present in 10% of human proteome which is what makes our proteins, and is required by our immune system for the proper function of innate and adaptive immune cells which are your body’s defense line against viral and even bacterial infections, the importance of zinc to maintain a healthy body is well documented. Especially in recent years, it has become almost a buzzword among health and fitness enthusiasts and rightly so as it plays a vital role in various bodily functions, including spermatogenesis, the beta-cell function of the pancreas, wound healing, and DNA synthesis. 

Given its importance, it is necessary to maintain a healthy zinc intake as part of our diet because our body doesn’t store Zinc in excess. Pregnant females need to maintain a dosage that is higher than what is recommended for a non-pregnant female because zinc is required by the developing embryo for proper brain development along with other growth parameters. Women who are trying to have a baby also need to maintain a healthy amount of zinc in their diet or through dietary supplements, as zinc deficiency in females affects the chances of conceiving and getting pregnant.

Zinc and Brain

Our brain has a rich deposit of free zinc especially concentrated at synaptic boutons, this suggests that zinc is required for neuronal signaling and function where it triggers different brain functions. Not only that it promotes the development of new brain cells making it not only important in later years of life to maintain our memory and neuronal health but also at the early stage when our brain is developing at a fast pace and requires extra nutrition till the age of 15 years. 

Zinc deficiency has been linked to brain fog which is described as the inability to focus and think where you are unable to make logical decisions, this is often the result of zinc deficiency if everything else seems to be normal. Over the years, various research studies have linked Zinc deficiency with several mental disorders including anxiety and depression. In the absence of zinc or in its deficiency N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors are active which are identified as one of the signs of depression and anxiety, this condition leads to elevated glutamatergic neurotransmission in the brain and can be countered with adequate zinc intake because zinc blocks NMDA receptors.

How To Maintain Adequate Levels of Zinc?

We can maintain a healthy level of zinc in our bodies- through a proper diet that is rich in zinc or we can use zinc supplements.

Zinc is naturally present in trace amounts in some foods, ‘specially curated diet’ and it is also available as a nutritional supplement. Albeit it is important to ensure the bioavailability of zinc in foods as diet, rich in carbs and low in proteins has zinc, but is not high in its bioavailability and for that reason, individuals with special dietary preference like Vegans and vegetarians need to make sure that they include either food high in zinc or take a good zinc supplement.

Food Sources Of Zinc

Some foods which are a rich source of zinc are

  • Oysters
  • Beef
  • Crabs
  • Cereals
  • Oats
  • Pumpkin
  • seeds
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Cheese
  • Lentil
  • Yogurt
  • Brown
  • Rice
  • Eggs
  • Kidney
  • Beans
  • Wheat
  • Bread
  • Tomatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Bananas
  • Avocado. 

Out of these foods, oyster is the richest source of zinc. Beef is another great source of zinc, while plant-based foods also can be good sources of zinc the problem is plants contain phytates which bind zinc and makes it insoluble which prevents its absorption in the body making plant-based sources of zinc less bioavailable, that is why vegans and vegetarians require almost double the amount of Zinc recommended for others.

Major Takeaways

Zinc is an element and an essential mineral that is required by more than 300 enzymes in our body to function, including gene expression and neural signaling. It acts as a catalyst for many chemical reactions that our bodies go through every day to keep functioning properly. It is required by our immunity system and our brains and it is the structural element of various proteins. Zinc deficiency leads to depression, brain fog, and reproductive issues. 

It’s an element that our body can’t naturally produce or store, in excess.

However, We can easily maintain a healthy level of zinc in our body with proper nutrition or supplement to live a better and healthy life by giving our body what it needs before it becomes a necessity.