Zinc (Mineral Supplement)
Zinc is an essential trace mineral that plays an important role in cell replication and growth, the development of the reproductive organs, and the maintenance of a healthy immune system and efficient metabolism. The human body contains between up to 4 grams of zinc, mainly in the brain, muscles, bones, kidneys and liver. The highest concentrations occur in the male prostate gland and the eye. It is a component of more than a hundred enzymes and is involved in the functioning of the hormone insulin, responsible for blood sugar control.
Zinc plays an important role in brain function where it may help to prevent cell degeneration, reducing the risk of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. It has a role in regulating how neurons communicate with one another, affecting how memories are formed and how we learn.
Zinc is vital for maintaining the healthy function of the prostate and reproductive organs, Prostate cells require ten times more zinc than other cells, and inadequate zinc intake is a risk factor for low sperm quality and male infertility.
Zinc, together with Vitamin A, is essential for the health of the retina and the eye’s reaction to light; a Cochrane review found that supplementation may help to reduce progression to age-related macular degeneration. Zinc also helps to maintain skin integrity and structure and is an ingredient of many creams used to treat skin conditions.
Foods sources of zinc include shellfish in particular, as well as lean meat, seeds, nuts, wholegrains, pulses and dairy produce. Plant-based zinc is less bioavailable than that from meat. The European Food Safety Authority recommend 7.5 to 12.7mg of zinc per day, 9.4 to 16.3mg for men.
While severe zinc deficiency is rare, mild deficiency can result in reduced immunity with a higher susceptibility to illness and infection. Slow healing of wounds, eye problems, depression and impaired taste and smell become increasingly likely. Zinc deficiency is usually due to insufficient dietary intake and general malnourishment, but can also be associated with malabsorption, chronic liver or renal disease, diabetes, malignancy, and other chronic illnesses. Children with an inadequate intake of zinc may suffer from impaired growth and delayed sexual development. Cell damage such as occurs with, for example, burn injuries, can also increase zinc requirements.
High doses of zinc, usually resulting from over-supplementation, may cause nausea and loss of appetite or even shortness of breath and chest pain. Over time, high doses of zinc can cause weakened bones and chronic skin lesions and will interfere with copper and iron absorption.
NB You should seek professional advice before taking mineral supplements.