Our foods consist of so much more than just proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Foods are packed with vitamins and minerals that are just as essential for our health and wellbeing. One of the unsung heroes in this group is zinc, a mineral that activates over 300 enzymatic reactions involved in neural activity, wound healing, and immune health, among many other functions.
Even though we only need 10 milligrams of zinc every day, not getting enough of this vital nutrient can make your body more susceptible to infection, cause hair loss, or even lead to hearing difficulties. Learning just how much this mineral does for the physical and mental health of everyone - from toddlers and teens to seniors - will definitely convince you to meet your daily needs of zinc.
1. Zinc helps prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
AMD is a type of age-related eye condition that makes your vision blurry when you look straight ahead. When the macula, the section of the retina at the back of the eye, wears down with age, you may have difficulty focusing on objects ahead of you. Zinc prevents and slows down already existing vision loss caused by AMD.
Research by the National Eye Institute showed that a combination of 80 mg of zinc, copper, and antioxidants lowered the participants’ risk of AMD by 25%. A different study with 4,200 AMD patients showed that a combination of 80 mg zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene improved vision loss and slowed down the progression of the disease. This second study also pointed out that a zinc deficiency could play a role in the development of AMD, so making sure that you get enough zinc is key for good vision in your 50s and onwards.
2. Taking zinc can strengthen the immune system
Zinc plays a crucial role in the body’s immune response, especially as we get older. It is believed that zinc increases the activity of natural killer cells and T-cells, both of which are immune cells that target pathogens. There is ample evidence that zinc supplementation (45 mg daily) reduces the risk of pneumonia, boosts the effectiveness of flu shots, and reduces infection rates in seniors by up to 66%.
There is also research suggesting that taking 80 mg of zinc during a cold can reduce its severity and duration by nearly 33%. So having a zinc supplement on hand is beneficial during the cold and flu season. And for those of you wondering whether or not zinc can be beneficial for COVID-19, we have a whole article on the topic here - The Role of Zinc in Predicting the Severity of COVID-19.
3. Prevents acne and other skin issues
Acne is annoying, to say the least. Although there is no one cause of those pesky pimples that can appear anywhere on the skin, studies suggest that those suffering from acne often have low zinc levels. Luckily, both topical applications of cosmetics that contain zinc and taking zinc internally seems to be an effective way of calming skin inflammation, reducing skin oiliness, and eradicating P. acnes bacteria.
Therefore, making sure that you get enough zinc from your diet may be a good way to prevent or reduce acne. Applying a skin cream containing zinc directly onto pimples may also make them heal faster.
4. Zinc promotes wound healing
Did you know that about 5% of the zinc in your body is in your skin? A 2018 study points out that this could be because zinc is vital at virtually every step of wound healing. Although scientists are not sure how zinc influences the process of healing wounds, they point out that understanding this mechanism in the future could help people with persistent or hard-healing wounds, such as diabetic wounds, improve faster. Zinc supplements are already often prescribed to patients who experience larger burns and long-healing wounds.
5. The mineral has mood-boosting properties
Zinc is an essential component of the nervous system too. It’s necessary for the regeneration of nerve tissues in the brain and the body. Moreover, scientists have more recently noticed a connection between zinc deficiency and depression. It seems that the mineral may also play a key role in the synthesis of serotonin, the so-called "happy chemical." So it turns out that zinc may also be necessary for our emotional and mental health too!
6. Zinc is essential for healthy development
We already mentioned several ways in which older adults may benefit from having enough zinc in the system. But we would be remiss if we omitted the fact that zinc is also vital for supporting healthy brain development and overall growth in infants, young kids, and teenagers. This is because zinc is necessary for the production of DNA and cell growth, both of which are extra important when one does a lot of growing and learning - during the childhood years, that is.
7. Preserves memory and attention
Speaking of learning, zinc plays a dominant role in brain health too! As we already pointed out, the mineral is an important component of nerve regeneration. But there’s more. A zinc deficiency is actually linked to countless cognitive issues, such as memory, thinking, and attention problems. Some studies even made the observation that zinc deficiencies and Alzheimer's disease often go hand in hand, so it does appear that there is some connection between cognitive health and zinc intake.
8. Promotes bone health
We already mentioned that zinc has remarkable anti-inflammatory properties. Zinc activates the proteins in your body that fight chronic inflammation, so it’s necessary at preventing and lowering the progression of chronic diseases, notably joint and bone degeneration. A research article from 2020 suggests that zinc could play a role in preventing osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones by making them more porous. Zinc is implicated in the process of bone formation, so getting enough of the mineral is a good idea for bone and joint health, especially if you’re older.
How to Get Enough Zinc
The easiest way to meet your daily zinc intakes is through your diet. Below we list a list of zinc-rich foods:
- Red meat and poultry
- Fish and seafood
- Seeds, such as pumpkin seeds or chia seeds
- Legumes: beans, chickpeas, lentils
- Nuts, such as cashews or peanuts
- Vegetables: mushrooms, asparagus, and peas.
Also note that some plant foods, such as cereals, are also fortified with zinc. Read more about the signs of zinc deficiency and food source of zinc here - Zinc – How to Tell If You Have A Deficiency. Generally speaking, animal-based foods, such as red meat, shellfish, and dairy are easy for the body to absorb and rich in zinc. There are also zinc-rich plant foods, such as legumes and seeds, but it’s more difficult for the human body to absorb zinc from these sources, which is why vegetarians and vegans are at a greater risk of developing zinc deficiency. If you have any dietary restrictions, talk to a nutritionist or physician about zinc supplementation.
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