Zinc is an important mineral, which is essential for protein synthesis and helps to regulate the production of cells in the body’s immune system. It is mainly found in the muscles. Zinc is also found in high concentrations in red and white blood cells, the retina of the eye, bones, skin, kidneys, liver, and pancreas. In men, the prostate gland and semen (zinc is one of its constituents) store high amounts of zinc.
More than 300 enzymes in the human body require zinc for normal functioning. It is believed that around 3000 out of the 100,000 proteins involved in human life contain zinc. Our body contains about 2-3g of zinc.
Many organs of the body secrete zinc, including the pancreas, the salivary gland, and the prostate gland. Immune cells also secrete zinc.
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Benefits of zinc –
– Zinc is vital to many biological functions such as immune resistance, digestion, reproduction, physical growth, diabetes control, appetite, stress level, taste and smell.
– It helps maintain normal taste and sense of smell, aids in wound healing, promotes normal foetal growth and boosts immunity. By boosting the immune system, zinc also helps protect against fungal infections and various infectious disorders, such as conjunctivitis and pneumonia.
– Zinc functions as an antioxidant and is involved in many decisive biochemical reactions, including enzymatic function, carbohydrate metabolism and protein synthesis.
– It plays an important role as a component of many enzymes regulating cell growth, DNA and protein synthesis, energy metabolism, regulation of gene transcription, hormonal levels in the body etc.
– It is required for fighting skin problems such as acne, boils and sore throats.
– It is also used as an astringent and an antiseptic for skin protection.
– Zinc is especially important for the prostate gland in males, and protects it from early damage that could lead to cancer.
– Zinc also promotes normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence (sexual development).
What foods are rich sources of zinc?
High-protein foods contain high amounts of zinc. Good food sources for vegetarian people include dairy products (milk, curd, yoghurt), beans and lentils, peanuts, peanut butter, seeds, fortified breakfast cereals, and wholegrain cereals. Pumpkin seeds are considered to be one of the most concentrated vegetarian dietary sources of zinc.
Dietary fibre (phytates, found in cereals, legumes) can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb zinc. Zinc is best absorbed by the body when taken with a meal that contains protein.
Red meat and poultry also provide good sources of zinc. Zinc absorption is greater from a diet high in animal protein than a diet rich in plant proteins. Thus, fruits and vegetables are not good sources of zinc.
Cooking helps reduce the adverse effects of both phytic acid and dietary fibre on zinc absorption.
Is excess zinc harmful?
Too much zinc can be harmful to the human body. Excessive absorption of zinc into the human body can lead to reduced iron function, and damage the immune system. The major adverse outcome of long-term consumption of excessive zinc is copper deficiency, along with stomachache, nausea, mouth irritation, and a bad taste.
Deficiency of zinc –
Zinc deficiency most often occurs when intake of zinc is inadequate or there is poor absorption by the body, or when there is increased excretion of zinc from the body, or when the body’s requirement for zinc increases.
Zinc is excreted through the faeces, urine, hair, skin, sweat, semen and during menstruation. Liver and pancreatic disorders, chronic alcoholism, diabetes mellitus, and absorption disorders lead to zinc deficiency.
Men should always make sure of sufficient quantity of zinc in their diets, since the health of their prostate gland is linked to zinc. Zinc is needed to manufacture testosterone and a shortage may induce a low sperm count, loss of libido.
Signs of zinc deficiency:
Symptoms of zinc deficiency include hair loss, skin eruptions, diarrohea, degradation of body tissues, and, eventually death also.
Since a person’s vision, taste, smell and memory are all connected with proper levels of zinc in the body – a deficiency in zinc causes faulty working of these organs. Deficiency of zinc may lead to poor night vision, falling hair, white spots under fingernails, skin problems, sleep disturbances, reduced wound-healing, decreased appetite, a decrease in the sense of taste and smell, a reduced ability to fight infections, and poor development of reproductive organs.
Zinc deficiency can also lead to immune system dysfunction and stunted growth, impaired male fertility along with hormonal disbalance. Women may experience irregular menstrual periods, while males may have slow sexual maturity.
Zinc deficiency is common in people infected with the HIV virus or suffering from AIDS.
Zinc levels are also low in people with diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes.
People with anorexia and bulimia are often deficient in zinc.
Children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) tend to have lower blood zinc levels.
Normal intake of zinc of approximately 12-15 mg per day, is adequate to prevent deficiencies. Males require higher amounts of zinc as compared to females. However, normal daily-recommended intakes are different for different individuals such as –
– Adult and teenage males – 9 to 12 mg/day
– Adult and teenage females – 9 mg/day
– Pregnant females: 15 mg/day
– Lactating mothers: 15 mg/day
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