April generally signals the end of the cold and flu season but that doesn’t mean there aren’t germs still lurking in our environment that can make us sick. Everything we touch outside our homes has germs on its surface; shopping carts, door handles, computer keyboards, bank keypads, bicycles, etc. If you don’t wear gloves or don’t wash your hands often, the germs are then brought back into your home. Zinc is invaluable in fighting off ailments from these germs as it enhances the immune response. Zinc is an essential mineral (albeit a trace mineral) that aids in, and increases, the absorption of important antioxidants such as vitamin A, C and E. As your body doesn’t produce zinc, you need to make sure you’re getting it from your diet or a quality multivitamin. The richest source of zinc in our diet comes from animal protein. A dinner consisting of beef, mushrooms, summer squash, broccoli and asparagus should get you almost your entire recommended daily amount of zinc. It’s important for you to get all your vitamins and minerals in the right combination, as one helps the other to function and to keep your body healthy. That right combination will always include zinc. Zinc is an extremely important mineral for many functions in our body right down to the very core structure of our cells, their growth, division and proper functioning. Zinc also contributes to bone development, assisting enzymes with digestion, energy metabolism and the healing of wounds.
RECOMMENDED DAILY ALLOWANCE:
What Does That Look Like?
|Oysters, 6 medium|
Alaska King Crab, 3oz.
Pork shoulder, 3oz.
Chicken leg, roasted
Raisin Bran, ¾ cup
Yogurt, 1 cup
Kidney beans, ½ cup
THE FUNCTIONS OF ZINC IN THE BODY
The Role of Zinc in Immunity
Zinc is critical to our body’s immune response because so many of our immune system’s mechanisms require zinc to function. For example, two of the more important types of immune functions that zinc assists with are cell-mediated immune response and antibody-mediated immune response.
If an immune response is cell-mediated, this means that it does not involve antibodies. Instead, it involves the activation of other cells in the body that will attack and kill bacteria or other infecting organisms.
If an immune response is antibody-mediated, this means it is a type of immunity that results from the activity of secreted antibodies.
If zinc levels fall in the body, the T cell numbers are reduced. T cells are important players in the immune response and zinc is important in the maturation and function of T cells.
A Helper T cell is a regulatory T cell which stimulates the production of other immune cells (hence the “helping” part) to help fight off the invading antigen (infecting organism).
A Cytotoxic (or “toxic to a cell”) T cell, also called a killer T cell, specializes in killing virus-invaded body cells as well as body cells that have become cancerous.
Suppressor T cells are the “brakes” of the organization, slowing or stopping the activity of killer cells once the infection or attack has been conquered.
Moving on to antiviral activities, zinc’s abilities are akin to the ability of vitamin C. Viruses that can cause the common cold are no match for zinc. Zinc gluconate lozenges, containing at least 23mg of zinc, taken every two hours, should significantly reduce the average duration of a cold. These lozenges can also be taken proactively throughout the cold season to avoid contracting colds.
Zinc, in conjunction with its partner selenium, also springs into action in your thyroid. Selenium is crucial in both the production of T4 (thyroxine) in the thyroid gland, as well as in the conversion of T4 to T3 (thyronine), the active form of thyroid hormone. Zinc is needed both before and after these production and conversion processes. Zinc is also necessary for the TRH hypothalamus hormone to stimulate the pituitary gland, which signals the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormone. 1
Ninety percent of zinc in the body is found in muscle, skin, hair and bone. Zinc plays an important role as a cofactor for several important enzymes necessary for bone mineralization and the development of the collagenous structure of bone (anything pertaining to collagen in bone). Zinc deficiency leads to negative effects on bone formation and low serum levels of zinc have been related to osteoporosis. Zinc concentration in our bones is greatly reduced if there is a general deficiency of zinc in the body overall as zinc will be leached from the bones to fulfill other duties in the body.
Zinc also assists:
- digestive enzymes with the process of digestion
- neurological function
- with blood clotting
- with the chemical reactions involved in energy transformations within cells
- the body in healing wounds
- the liver with its ability to remove toxic substances from the body, and
- the regulation of heart rate and blood pressure
SIGNS OF A ZINC DEFICIENCY
Toddlers and teens seem to be at greatest risk for a zinc deficiency as their needs are heightened as their body grows and, as we all know, teens are prone to making poor dietary choices.
A deficiency of zinc may result in the loss of the sense of taste and smell. It can also cause fingernails to become thin, peel, and develop white spots. Other possible signs of zinc deficiency include acne, fatigue, growth impairment, hair loss, high cholesterol levels, impaired night vision, increased susceptibility to infection, recurrent colds, memory impairment, skin lesions and slow wound healing. 2
The letdown of eating a diet high in zinc is that no matter how much you take in, only a mere 15% – 40% of the zinc actually gets absorbed by your body overall. This is especially true for non-meat zinc food sources. Several dietary constituents may decrease the bioavailability of zinc including phytic acid, dietary fiber and low dietary protein.
Dietary fibers and phytic acid in bran prevents the absorption of zinc in your body. Phytic acid forms a complex with the zinc that you take in. This compound is insoluble so that it cannot be absorbed readily by your body. Whole grains are a better source of zinc than refined grains as they have the ability to produce enzymes that can destroy phytic acid. The zinc you get from eating meat is four times more bioavailable than in whole grains. 3
CONDITIONS WHICH CAN BENEFIT FROM TAKING ZINC
Acne – Zinc aids in healing tissues and helps to heal skin and prevent scarring. Zinc is a necessary element in the oil-producing glands of the skin and can help regulate the production of oil by the glands when hormonal imbalances occur. Because zinc helps the liver remove toxins from the body, zinc can help with the buildup of toxic materials that can lead to acne. Zinc helps the body digest and absorb vitamin A, a known acne fighter, from the foods we eat.
Thyroid Conditions – Zinc, in combination with copper, can help to maintain a healthy thyroid gland. Zinc promotes the secretion of thyroid stimulating hormone or TSH.
The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormone, often referred to as the body’s major metabolic hormone. In actuality, thyroid hormone is comprised of two hormones; thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Most T3 is formed by conversion of T4 to T3.
Thyroid hormone controls the rate at which glucose is oxidized (or “burned”) and converted to body heat and chemical energy. Since all body cells depend on a continuous supply of chemical energy to power their activities, every cell in the body is a target. Thyroid hormone is also important for normal tissue growth and development, especially in the reproductive and nervous systems. As stated above, zinc is used in the production and conversion processes.
According to a study conducted at the University G. D’Annunzio, Chieti, Italy, zinc therapy can significantly improve thyroid and thymic function. The researchers studied 52 patients and found a high incidence of subclinical hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). It was found that 9 patients with reduced zinc levels, who were kept on zinc supplementation, showed improved thyroid function. They also showed reduced incidence of subclinical hypothyroidism.
Another study was conducted at the same university to evaluate the role of zinc deficiency in causing subclinical hypothyroidism and changes in thyroid function among the subjects supplemented with zinc sulfate. The researchers studied patients affected by Down’s syndrome. Hypothyroidism is a common endocrinological deficit found in such patients. Improved thyroid function was observed among the subjects who given 6 mo of zinc supplementation. 5
Always consult your primary health care provider before taking any new supplement to see if it is in alignment with your current therapies. When taking zinc, you need to balance it with copper for the all-important zinc/copper ratio that is so important to thyroid patients. For example, if you take 10 – 25mg of zinc, it needs to be balance with 1mg of copper.
Prescription Medications – The use of certain prescription medications increases the loss of zinc from the body or can interfere with absorption. Supplementation may be required to maintain zinc levels in people taking drugs such as aspirin, oral contraceptives, estrogens, penicillamine and certain diuretics.
MORE SPECIFIC SOURCES OF ZINC
- Brewer’s yeast
- Egg yolks
- Lima beans
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
NUTTERS CAN SUGGEST…
Every day your body requires the necessary building blocks of nutrition. It is virtually impossible to get everything that your body requires from diet alone. In this era of modern living, you simply cannot afford not to take a high quality multiple vitamin and mineral formula. Stress, environmental pollution, second-hand cigarette smoke, and many other factors increase nutrient requirements, especially for antioxidant nutrients like vitamins C and E, selenium, zinc, and carotenes. Furthermore, there is evidence that when we take optimal levels of essential nutrients it enhances the body’s healing mechanisms and overall physiological functions.
2. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Fourth Edition, Phyllis A. Balch, CNC
3. Nutritional Supplements Health Guide
4. Journal of the American College of Nutrition
6. Essentials of Human Anatomy & Physiology, Seventh Edition, Elaine Marieb
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.