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What Is Zinc, and What Does It Do for the Body?

What Is Zinc, and What Does It Do for the Body?

Although zinc plays a crucial role in many bodily functions, the body doesn't naturally produce this essential nutrient, making a varied diet or supplementation necessary for mental and physical well-being. To find out the functions and benefits of zinc, keep reading.

What is zinc?

Zinc is one of dozens of essential micronutrients the body uses to support functions such as disease resistance, immunity, wound healing, and sexual health.[1] However, because the body doesn't naturally produce zinc, eating a balanced diet or taking supplements is crucial to keeping levels topped up.

Unfortunately, low zinc levels can significantly impact wellness, making regular intake all the more important. We'll cover natural food sources of zinc shortly, but in the meantime, let's take a closer look at the roles this essential micronutrient plays in well-being.

What zinc does for the body

Zinc is a versatile micronutrient, with sufficient levels contributing to the following:

• A functioning immune system
• Healthy skin
• Reducing oxidative stress
• Improving sexual health
• Shortening the duration of cold and flu symptoms
• Slowing cell degradation

As you can see from the list above, the role of zinc in the human body is broad and varied. However, it's important to point out that balanced intake is crucial. Despite its positive influence, taking too much zinc can cause just as many problems as it helps solve.

What are the benefits of taking zinc?

With a general idea of how zinc can support various bodily functions, let's dive deeper into the research surrounding zinc's proposed wellness benefits.

Zinc and the immune system

A comprehensive review of "The immune system and the impact of zinc during aging" highlights some crucial considerations for those unsure about supplementation.[2] The paper notes that not only does a zinc deficiency affect "multiple aspects of innate and adaptive immunity", but that oral zinc supplementation has the potential to influence chronic inflammation.

This proposed impact is most notable in older adults, but it's a compelling case for people of all ages. The researchers also point out that a varied diet or moderate zinc supplementation "could have substantial benefits" with few adverse effects.

Zinc and wound healing

Another area of influence for zinc is the skin; specifically, it helps to support skin repair and infection prevention. In 2018, US researchers outlined the proposed role of zinc, including cell membrane repair and cell proliferation.[3] While the research covers the entirety of zinc interactions, two findings, in particular, stand out.

The first is that zinc deficiency has been "linked to delayed wound healing", and the second is that "low serum zinc levels have been reported in critically ill patients". Both of these findings suggest that low zinc levels contribute significantly to a reduction in the body's natural healing abilities. The researchers hope that the evidence gathered could be used to support "future clinical management of wound healing".

Zinc and digestive disorders

Most of the research we've looked at so far examines the influence of zinc in adults or the elderly. However, zinc supplementation could prove beneficial in children, with both the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF recommending up to 20mg of zinc for severe diarrhoea.[4] Specifically, zinc supplementation "given for 10–14 days lowers the incidence of diarrhoea in the following two or three months".

It's believed that the impact of zinc on diarrhoea severity stems from its influence on "the absorption of water and electrolytes" alongside its modulation of our body's immune response for "better clearance of pathogens".

However, researchers noted that in some cases, the reduction in diarrhoea was followed by a potential increase in vomiting, and that further research on the lowest, most effective dose was needed.[5]

What happens if you don't get enough zinc?

As you may have noticed from the research above, zinc deficiency poses a potentially serious risk to health across all age groups. Without this essential micronutrient, many crucial bodily functions simply won't operate as intended. But how do you know if you have a deficiency?

Symptoms of zinc deficiency include:

• Loss of appetite
• Hair loss
• Impotence
• Impaired immune function
• Growth retardation
• Delayed wound healing

The difficulty is that symptoms of zinc deficiency aren't exclusive to that condition, and could be due to several other underlying health conditions. If you suspect you have a zinc deficiency, it's important to consult a doctor or physician so they can rule out other conditions.

We mentioned earlier that a balanced approach to zinc intake is crucial. This is because too much zinc is just as detrimental as too little. Although a zinc overdose is uncommon, it can lead to stomach pain, vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, and headaches.

Food sources of zinc

While zinc supplementation is recommended across certain risk groups (people with gastrointestinal disease and vegetarians), most of us will get all the zinc we need from our diet. That is, of course, provided it includes a selection of the foods outlined below:

• Beef
• Pork
• Fortified breakfast cereals
• Chicken
• Cashews
• Oatmeal

How much zinc should you take?

Fortunately, the body doesn't need excessive amounts of zinc to maintain healthy functioning. In fact, the daily recommendation is about 11mg for adult males and 8mg for adult females.

The following are recommended doses based on age, according to National Institute of Health guidelines:

• The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for children under eight years is 2–5mg. This increases for children aged 9–18 (8–11mg), while adults over nineteen should also aim for roughly 8–11mg of zinc daily.

Remember, these recommendations are merely guidelines, and you may get all the zinc your body needs from your habitual diet. If not, that's when supplements can help to bring zinc levels up to an adequate range. Given the importance of zinc in disease resistance, wound healing, and digestion, a slight increase in your daily consumption could work wonders for mental and physical well-being.

Interested in adding zinc to your daily routine? Visit the Cibdol store for a range of natural health supplements. And to learn more about the role of vitamins and minerals in well-being, visit the CBD Encyclopedia for everything you need to know.

Sources

[1] Office of dietary supplements - zinc. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/. Published 2021. Accessed May 3, 2022. [Source]

[2] Haase H, Rink L. The immune system and the impact of zinc during aging. Immunity & ageing : I & A. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2702361/. Published June 12, 2009. Accessed May 3, 2022. [Source]

[3] Lin P-H, Sermersheim M, Li H, Lee PHU, Steinberg SM, Ma J. Zinc in wound healing modulation. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5793244/. Published December 24, 2017. Accessed May 3, 2022. [Source]

[4] Bajait C, Thawani V. Role of zinc in pediatric diarrhea. Indian journal of pharmacology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3113371/. Published May 2011. Accessed May 3, 2022. [Source]

[5] Dhingra U, Al. E, Author Affiliations From the Center for Public Health Kinetics, et al. Lower-dose zinc for childhood diarrhea - a randomized, Multicenter Trial: Nejm. New England Journal of Medicine. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1915905. Published April 28, 1970. Accessed May 3, 2022. [Source]

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