Like magnesium, zinc is a mineral that’s present in many of the body’s functions. We talked about Magnesium in another episode and if you remember it’s important because it’s involved in many different ways in your body’s cellular activity. Well zinc is another much needed mineral and let’s talk about why!
Zinc might not be as ubiquitous as magnesium, but it’s still very important to pay attention to in your diet. Why? Because the body lacks a specialized zinc storage system!
Zinc has a lot of benefits, but three in particular can have a big impact on your daily health.
First, zinc supports your immune system. While you only need a little zinc to have your immune system work well, a deficiency could have dire consequences. That’s because zinc is the ingredient necessary to activate T-cells, which are important for two reasons: 1) T-cells attack infected and cancerous cells and 2) they help to control and regulate immune responses. A measure of how important T-cells are for the immune system is that some of the worst aspects of HIV result from the virus’s attack on T-cells.
Second, zinc has an impact in the process of healing wounds. Specifically, it’s important because of the way it interacts with collagen. Collagen is a protein that maintains the structure in skin and other kinds of connective tissue. Zinc, in turn, helps in the production and remodeling of collagen, which is a key property that boosts tissue growth in and around a “wound bed,” thus promoting healing.
Third, zinc has great properties that can help you with the common cold. Many people find that zinc lozenges can help cut down on the severity and duration of a cold. One study found this zinc remedy could cut down on the length of a cold by 40 percent! The theory is that zinc helps to reduce inflammation in and around the mouth and throat, where much of the cold virus resides.
So, now that you know that you need zinc, where can you find it? Oysters are a great source, so if you’re at happy hour, have a few to make up for that beer! Red meat, lobster and poultry are also good sources. For vegetarians, beans, nuts, dairy products and especially whole grains help with zinc intake.
Since zinc isn’t stored in the body, people who are prone to zinc deficiencies either have trouble absorbing it, take in too little, or use up too much. In the first case you’ll find people with digestive disorders or diseases associated with metabolism, like liver disease. In the second case, vegetarians who aren’t eating oysters and red meat could become zinc deficient without some compensating strategies. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding use a lot of zinc for their baby’s needs and may also run low.
Remember, because your body can’t store this important mineral, don’t take it for granted. Think zinc.
Key Terms and Ideas:
The only source of zinc comes from what we eat (either from food or supplements) because the body lacks a specialized zinc storage system.
T-cells are a “type of white blood cell that is of key importance to the immune system and is at the core of adaptive immunity, the system that tailors the body's immune response to specific pathogens. The T cells are like soldiers who search out and destroy the targeted invaders.” (MedicineNet)
Collagen is a protein that maintains the structure in skin and other kinds of connective tissue.
LINKS & RESOURCES:
Cathy Thomas Hess, "Monitoring laboratory values: zinc, copper, vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin E," Advances in skin & wound care 22.5 (2009): 240, https://journals.lww.com/aswcjournal/Citation/2009/05000/Monitoring_Laboratory_Values__Zinc,_Copper,.12.aspx, accessed April 2019.
Joseph Nordqvist, “What are the health benefits of Zinc?” Medical News Today, December 5, 2017, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263176.php, accessed April 2019.
William S. Shiel, “Medical Definition of T Cell,” MedicineNet, https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=11300, accessed April 2019.
“Zinc: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals,” National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements, March 13, 2019, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/, accessed April 2019.
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