Your body has about the same amount of zinc as a 4-inch galvanized nail. Getting and maintaining the right amount of this important mineral is similar to walking a tightrope. It’s a fine line between too much and not enough—with hazards for any missteps. Loading up with zinc for more than a week can weaken your immune system, lower your HDL (good) cholesterol and trigger a copper deficiency.
What Is Zinc?
Unlike other trace minerals, it is not stored in the body, but acts as a functioning nutrient. Zinc is a party animal—it likes to circulate around and doesn’t take time to rest.
Stomach acid is important for the absorption of zinc. Medications or health problems that decrease available stomach acid may limit its absorption. Tumor cells demand it for growth and when the supply is plentiful, they thrive. If you have cancer, zinc supplements are usually not recommended. It is such a circulator, you lose it when your dry skin rubs off or you comb out that “flaky white stuff.”
If you substantially increase your calcium intake, you may need more zinc. Vegetarians sometimes have a hard time getting enough of it because soy foods and whole grains are high in substances that are natural inhibitors of its absorption. It is found in animal foods, especially red meat, seafood and eggs, is absorbed up to four times more effectively than zinc found in plant foods.
Why You Need It
Antioxidant Actions: Teamed up with copper, this mineral helps protect against the damage caused by free radicals.
Hormones: It is needed to make the male hormone testosterone and other essential hormones.
Immune System: It helps put zip in your immune system. Even a mild zinc deficiency can increase your risk of infection.
Metabolism: It plays a role in more than 200 enzymatic reactions in your body. It is critical for the manufacture and stabilization of genetic material. Zinc levels in a pregnant woman are linked to proper formation of the brain, eyes, heart, bones, lungs, soft palate, lips, kidneys, and sex organs of the developing baby.
Skin & Hair: It is needed to help oil glands function. It also helps skin wounds heal by controlling inflammation and speeding regrowth of tissue.
Other functions: Normal taste and smell senses need plenty of zinc to work properly.
- 1-3 years old: 3 mg/d
- 4-8 years old: 5 mg/d
- 9-13 years old: 8 mg/d
- 14-18 years old: Men 11 mg/d, Women 9 mg/d
- 19+ years old: Men 11 mg/d, Women 8 mg/d
More or Less?
Increased or decreased nutrient needs should always be discussed with your healthcare professional. You might need higher than recommended amounts if you are older than 70, drink heavily or fasting.
Lack of zinc may lead to poor night vision, slow wound healing, a decrease in sense of taste and smell, a reduced ability to fight infections, and poor development of reproductive organs.
Excess zinc from supplements may cause drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, impaired coordination, restlessness, a weakened immune system, lower HDL (good) cholesterol, and decreased copper and iron levels. Minimum toxic dose is 30 mg.
Milk and eggs reduce zinc absorption. Fiber foods, bran and phytates, found mainly in the outer covering of grains, may also inhibit zinc absorption.
Natural food sources are always best in maintaining zinc levels, but supplements can be useful too, especially if you current diet does not call for many food with high zinc levels. For those looking for foods high in zinc can find it in: beef, lamb, oysters, pork, and veal.