Zinc is a trace element that is necessary for a healthy immune system. A lack of zinc can make a person more susceptible to disease and illness. It is responsible for a number of functions in the human body, and it helps stimulate the activity of at least 100 different enzymes. Only a small intake of zinc is necessary to reap the benefits.
Currently, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for zinc in the United States is 8 milligrams (mg) a day for women and 11 mg a day for men. The element is naturally found in many different foods, but it is also available as a dietary supplement.
Fast facts on zinc:
- Zinc is an important aspect of nutrition,
- Zinc deficiency can occur if there is not a high enough consumption from diet or supplementation,
- Deficiency in children can lead to growth impediments and increased risk of infection,
- During pregnancy and lactation, women may need extra zinc.
The following are some of the health benefits of zinc.
Zinc and regulating immune function
Zinc is an “essential trace element” because our bodies only need very small amounts of it. According to the European Journal of Immunology, the human body needs zinc to activate T lymphocytes (T cells). T cells help the body in two ways:
- controlling and regulating immune responses
- attacking infected or cancerous cells
Zinc deficiency can severely impair immune system function
According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “zinc-deficient persons experience increased susceptibility to a variety of pathogens.”
Zinc effects on learning and memory
Research conducted at the University of Toronto and published in the journal Neuron, suggested that zinc has a crucial role in regulating how neurons communicate with one another, affecting how memories are formed and how we learn.
Zinc to treat the common cold
Zinc lozenges were found to shorten the duration of common cold episodes by up to 40 percent in a study published in the Open Respiratory Medicine Journal. In addition, a Cochrane review concluded that taking “zinc (lozenges or syrup) is beneficial in reducing the duration and severity of the common cold in healthy people, when taken within 24 hours of onset of symptoms.”
Zinc’s role in wound healing
Zinc plays a role in maintaining skin integrity and structure. Patients experiencing chronic wounds or ulcers often have deficient zinc metabolism and lower serum zinc levels. Zinc is often used in skin creams for treating diaper rash or other skin irritations.
Zinc and decreased risk of age-related chronic disease
A study from researchers at Oregon State University have found that improving zinc status through diet and supplementation may reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases. It has been known for decades that zinc has a significant role in immune function. Deficiency has been linked to increased inflammation in chronic disease and triggering new inflammatory processes.
Zinc for preventing age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
Zinc prevents cellular damage in the retina, which helps in delaying the progression of AMD and vision loss, according to a study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology.
Zinc and fertility
Several studies and trials have linked poor zinc status with low sperm quality. For example, one study in the Netherlands found that subjects had a higher sperm count after zinc sulphate and folic acid supplementation. In another study, researchers concluded that poor zinc intake may be a risk factor for low quality of sperm and male infertility.