Humans need several nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for the body to function correctly. Even though they are extremely important for health, some of them are hardly known. This is the case of zinc, which is an essential mineral for our body, and we must obtain it through food since it is present in very little quantity in the body. Here we will explore zinc benefits for our body.
What is Zinc?
Zinc or Zn is a metallic chemical element, present in the periodic table in group 12, part of the transition metals. Its atomic number is 30, and its symbol Zn, from its original German name: Zink, from Zinken (“teeth,” “spikes”), alluding to the sharp appearance of the mineral calamine, in which this element is abundant. Leaving aside chemistry, zinc in the biological sphere is one of the most essential trace elements in the body and fulfills various functions within the body. In this sense, it is configured as a necessary mineral so that our body can perform all normal functions, and a deficiency of this can cause a variety of pathologies.
- Strengthens our immune system: The main zinc benefits is that it strengthens our immune system. Zinc is an essential mineral for enabling the body to react as it should when it has to fight against infections. If the levels of zinc are low, the immune system will not be able to respond appropriately. In times of flu and colds, it is a very effective mineral when taken together with vitamin C. In this sense, it helps to maintain immune barriers properly.
- Intervenes in metabolism: This mineral participates in hundreds of enzymatic reactions, among which are those involved in helping with the metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. It is the engine of enzymes and hormones, which have an essential role in metabolic activities.
- Cell regeneration: It also acts as an antioxidant and participates in cell regeneration, as it protects cells from oxidative stress, which is caused by free radicals. A poor diet, environmental pollution, or tobacco generate harmful free radicals for our bodies. Having the right amount of zinc protects us against these harmful effects.
- Bone development: It plays an activity in the bone system, helping to develop bones in the early years and helping to combat degeneration in adulthood. It also has numerous benefits for the skin and hair. The lack of this mineral means we miss out on zinc benefits and start to show premature signs of aging of the skin, nails, and hair.
Foods Rich in Zinc
Zinc is found mainly in animal proteins, especially in foods of marine origin. Seafood and crustaceans stand out (100 g of oysters provide three times the recommended daily dose), followed by meats and dairy products, and to a lesser extent, eggs, whole grains, and legumes. In general, plant foods are a poor source of zinc. Also, the zinc contained in a plant form is less bioavailable because other compounds alter its absorption, such as fiber, phytates, and oxalates from cereals or the tannins present in tea or wine. Besides, the processing of foods, especially grains, reduces the amount of zinc present in foods. Between 3 and 38% of zinc from the diet is absorbed, its absorption being greater in diets that contain animal proteins. Calcium, copper, and cadmium can compete for the intestinal transporter and reduce its absorption while glucose, lactose, organic acids, and some proteins favor its absorption.
For us to gain the most zinc benefits, the recommended intake of zinc in an adult is 8 mg in women and 11 in men. The requirements in pregnant or lactating women are increased to 11-12 mg/day and 12-13 mg/day, respectively. When administered as a dietary supplement, most experts recommend 15-30mg as a maintenance dose, 25-30mg during intense training phases, or even 30-60mg to overcome a deficiency.
Zinc deficiency affects growth in the first period of life, promotes susceptibility to infections and weight loss, night vision is also affected, wound healing is worse, there is also a loss of taste and senses. On the other hand, low levels of this mineral are also associated with reduced testosterone levels and hypogonadism (shrunken testicles in men). A well-balanced diet usually covers the requirements of all the necessary nutrients. Still, in the case of alcoholism, digestive diseases, or following a very monotonous and low-calorie diet, a deficiency of this mineral could occur. In this case, it is crucial to seek medical advice and assess the usefulness of taking a supplement of this mineral.
Amounts of up to 40 mg/day have not been associated with side effects. The use of higher doses should only be done under the supervision of a professional. It is believed that high consumption for long periods can lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Consuming too much of this mineral can negate zinc benefits. Consumption of zinc in doses 150 mg/day or higher for an extended period of time can produce the opposite effects, generating adverse effects on immunity and antioxidant function.