What is Zinc
Zinc is an important mineral especially needed by the body. It is often found in certain foods and supplements. It can also be combined along with medicines such as lozenges and over-the-counter remedies. This mineral plays an important role in various processes in the body such as cellular metabolism. It speeds up the function of over a hundred enzymes in the body and is involved in immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis, and cell division. Zinc is also needed for the normal growth and development of the baby during pregnancy. It is also needed by children and teenagers for their growth and development. It is also needed for the senses of taste and smell. The body does not have a storage system for zinc so that we need to take in this mineral everyday.
Zinc can be obtained from a wide variety of foods such as oysters, red meat and poultry. Other food sources include beans, nuts, certain types of seafood such as crab and lobster, whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products. However one must be careful of consuming foods that contain phytates such as certain fruits and vegetables. These phytates bind zinc and inhibit its absorption. Examples of foods that may contain phytates include whole-grain breads, cereals, legumes, and other foods. Thus it is better to obtain zinc from animal foods rather than plant foods.
Certain food supplements may contain several forms of zinc such as zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, and zinc acetate. The percentage of elemental zinc varies by form. The labels of these zinc supplements often contain the amount of elemental zinc available per serving.
Zinc is helpful in certain health conditions. For one, zinc is needed in proper immune functioning. Even mild to moderate degrees of zinc deficiency can impair macrophage and neutrophil functions, natural killer cell activity, and complement activity. The body needs zinc to develop and activate T lymphocytes which fight off microorganisms that bring about diseases in the body. Zinc supplementation can also bring about faster wound healing. Zinc helps maintain the integrity of skin and mucosal membranes; it may help people with chronic leg ulcers. Adequate zinc supplementation is also needed in acute diarrhea, which has killed many children all over the world due to dehydration. Zinc deficiency causes alterations in immune response that probably contribute to increased susceptibility to infections, such as those that cause diarrhea, especially in children. Zinc can also help reduce the severity and duration of cold symptoms by directly inhibiting rhinovirus binding and replication in the nasal mucosa and suppressing inflammation. This is why zinc has been added lately to lozenges and cold syrups or tablets.
Zinc may also help benefit age-related macular degeneration by delaying its progression through antioxidant function. This is why older individuals should make sure that they take adequate doses of zinc everyday.
Lack of Maternal Zinc Can Affect Fetal Development
A recent study in mice has revealed that low levels or lack of maternal zinc can affect fetal development during pregnancy. This study was done by researchers from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences and may have implications for human reproduction. The study found out that female mice deprived of dietary zinc for a relatively short time before conception experienced fertility and pregnancy problems and had smaller, less-developed fetuses than mice that ingested zinc during the same times. The researchers also noted that lack of zinc prior to ovulation had marked effects on the mice’s reproductive functions. Zinc deficiency caused a high incidence of pregnancy loss, and embryos from the zinc-deficient diet group were an average of 38 percent smaller than those from the control group. Preconception zinc deficiency also caused approximately half of embryos to exhibit delayed or aberrant development. The results of this study may serve as a reminder to obstetricians to strengthen zinc supplementation during pregnancy.
More medical breakthroughs are discussed in our other articles on this site.