There are numerous minerals our bodies need which are present in very small amounts. These are the “trace” minerals, as opposed to minerals like calcium which require large amounts of daily intake. Zinc is one of these important nutrients. In general, trace minerals are less available in the food we eat than what our grandparents ate due to the gradual depletion of these minerals from the soil due to long-term farming. For some people, this difference has been enough to result in a zinc deficiency. Additionally, there are digestive diseases which can contribute to zinc deficiency, and alcoholics tend to have low zinc levels (as well as other nutritional deficiencies).
There are multiple functions of zinc in the body, with immune function, tissue growth, and eye health among the most important. However, there are over 100 enzyme systems which require zinc, so many less well-known effects of deficiency are possible.
Zinc’s role in immune function is to increase the activity of the various cells which make up the immune system. An impaired immune system leads to increased susceptibility to various infections from the common cold to pneumonia. Zinc has also been shown to reduce the duration of common colds by directly inhibiting binding of rhinovirus (the virus responsible for most common colds) to the nasal mucosa and subsequent replication and by suppressing inflammation. This effect is primarily associated with lozenge or syrup forms of zinc.
Zinc deficiency is associated with skin and mucosal membrane damage. Many wound care specialists routinely add zinc supplements for their patients, especially those with thin, fragile skin to reduce healing time.
Along with antioxidants, zinc supplementation has been shown to preserve eye health by reducing free radical cell damage in the retina. This can reduce general visual decline and also age-related macular degeneration.
Another use for zinc supplementation especially in men is to reduce their estrogen level. Men’s bodies need a small amount of estrogen, but sometimes the level gets too high. Frequently this is because the body has too much of an enzyme called “aromatase” which breaks down testosterone into estradiol, the primary human estrogen. This enzyme can be inhibited by extra zinc supplementation, leading to higher testosterone and lower estrogen levels.
There are several different forms of zinc available for supplementation and they vary in their “bio-availability” which is how much actually gets absorbed. Our preferred form is zinc in the amino acid chelate form, also known as zinc glycinate. This form is not affected by dietary factors and is absorbed at a higher rate than zinc in salt forms like sulfate or oxide.
If you have any questions about your specific need for zinc or any other supplement, please contact us at the Pharmacy.