The mineral zinc probably doesn’t cross your mind very often, but it’s actually much more important than you might think. Zinc is the second most-abundant element in the human body, after iron. Zinc can be found in all tissues, organs and bodily fluids.
Which Foods Contain Zinc?
Despite zinc’s importance, it’s not stored in the body, so it’s a nutrient you need to consume every day. The best dietary sources of this mineral are red meats, seafood, nuts, legumes, whole grains and dairy products.
Zinc Deficiency and the Effects
Not getting enough zinc can cause a wide variety of health problems. Common symptoms of zinc deficiency include hair loss, diarrhea, suppressed growth in children and adolescents, slow healing of wounds, loss of appetite and anemia. You might be at an increased risk of zinc deficiency if you’re pregnant or lactating, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, if you drink a lot of alcohol, or if you have sickle cell disease or a digestive disorder.
On the other hand, when you get enough of it, the health benefits of zinc are manifold. Here are just a few of them.
Health Benefits of Zinc
- Zinc is essential to immune system function. The European Journal of Immunology says that zinc is needed for the function of T-cells, which are cells that attack other cells that are infected or cancerous. Even a mild zinc deficiency can compromise your immune system and increase your risk of many types of infection.
- Zinc can speed up wound healing. This is because the mineral plays a role in skin structure and integrity. Those with slow-healing wounds or chronic ulcers are likely to have a zinc deficiency. One study conducted in Sweden showed that topical application of zinc can even help heal leg ulcers.
- Getting enough zinc is important for testosterone production. There are numerous studies supporting this link, and the mineral also seems to be linked to healthy sperm quality and fertility. Therefore, zinc is a great supplement if you suffer from low testosterone or if you’re trying to conceive. Because zinc supports healthy testosterone levels, it’s also likely to have a positive effect on your sex drive, making zinc an ideal supplement for those suffering from low libido.
- Zinc has natural anti-inflammatory properties. Getting enough of it can help protect against various inflammatory conditions including acne, asthma and irritable bowel.
- Zinc boasts anti-oxidant properties. One study showed that zinc reduced DNA breakage in women. Anti-oxidants reduce the presence of free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause cell and DNA damage.
How to Take a Zinc Supplement
The recommended daily intake for zinc, from diet and supplements combined, is eight milligrams daily for women and 11 milligrams daily for men. When taking a zinc supplement for a health concern, the dose is likely to be higher and this is fine. Zinc is normally completely safe when taken in amounts no larger than 40 milligrams daily.
Zinc is a wonderful supplement, but there can be too much of a good thing. Taking more than 40 milligrams of zinc every day could decrease your body’s absorption of copper, which could lead to anemia. Higher doses could cause side effects like fever, stomach pain, fatigue, coughing and many others. If you’re a man, taking more than 100 milligrams of supplement zinc every day, or taking it for more than 10 years, doubles your risk of prostate cancer.
Even at lower doses, you might experience side effects. It’s extremely common to have nausea or even vomiting after taking a zinc supplement. This can occur when you take it on an empty stomach, or if you have some food in your stomach, but not enough. Therefore, you should take your zinc supplement with the largest meal of the day to avoid this possibility.
What you should consider
Use extra caution when taking a zinc supplement if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding; it’s also a good idea to consult your doctor if this is the case. Large doses of zinc can lower blood sugar, so people with diabetes should use zinc supplements with caution. As with any dietary supplement, if you have a known medical condition or are on any medications, consult with your doctor before taking zinc.