WHAT IS ZINC?Zinc is the tenth most common element found in the human body, but don’t let its apparent low status detract from its huge importance in growth, protection and maintenance of good health. It is vital in the functioning of more than 300 hormone and enzyme activities within the body.
Zinc deficiency is associated with numerous disease states including;
Diabetes • Immune malfunction • Ulcers, Inadequate digestion • Poor wound healing,
Lack of appetite and eating disorders • Poor growth • Psychiatric conditions including Schizophrenia • Skin conditions etc etc.
ZINC AS AN ANTIOXIDANT AND IMMUNE SYSTEM PROTECTOR
Zinc is an essential component in the body’s most important natural antioxidants Superoxide Dismutase or SOD. This is an antioxidant that can disarm dangerous superoxide radicals which can wreak havoc within our bodies. Research suggests that maintaining adequate levels of zinc is important in increasing good health into old age and longevity. In addition to boosting our antioxidant defences, zinc plays a crucial role in supporting our immune system. Our white blood cells depend on zinc for their development and activation. If humans are deficient in zinc it can result in a diminished ability to fight infection and heal wounds. Adequate zinc also helps to protect us against cancer.
ZINC AND THE COMMON COLD Like vitamin C, zinc knocks out the cold virus if caught early enough. Sucking a zinc lozenge or using a liquid form of zinc to gargle with works better than swallowing a tablet. Using zinc in this way has been shown to cut down cold symptoms from an average of about seven days to four days. Colds can lead to more serious secondary conditions such as sinusitis, middle ear infection, and upper respiratory tract infections. Researchers adding zinc sulphate and zinc lactate to cell cultures infected with respiratory syncytial virus, found that the zinc prevented the harmful virus from replicating freely.
IMPORTANCE OF ZINC IN PROTECTING OUR HEALTH AS WE AGE
As we grow old we do not secrete the amount of stomach acid necessary for zinc absorption. If therefore a diet is already low in this important mineral, this reduction in absorption makes a bad problem worse. In the US studies show there is a high incidence of zinc deficiency among the sick elderly, and one report suggests mandatory supplementation for all older adults. As people age, their immune system declines, partly due to the decreasing function of the thymus gland. New evidence now suggests that zinc may help healthy function of this gland in elderly people.
ZINC IN WOUND HEALING People who are slow to heal either after injury or operation could well be deficient in zinc. Zinc’s healing power comes from its ability to promote protein synthesis. What mum has not used zinc and castor oil on their babies? Calamine lotion is renowned as a first aid treatment in many situations, possibly because of its high zinc content. Zinc oxide paste applied directly improves leg ulcer healing in a very high percentage of cases. People who do get leg ulcers tend to have a lower than normal level of zinc. Taking a zinc supplement before and after any operation is most wise.
ZINC IN HUMAN GROWTH
Zinc is vital in human growth and maturation. Studies show that zinc deficiency results in growth retardation and cognitive deficits. Zinc deficiency is linked to deficits in healthy bone mineralisation. Tests in California showed that zinc supplementation produced highly significant positive results in both height and weight increments. Research in Turkey recently showed that zinc supplementation stimulates the production of growth factor involved in both bone and overall growth.
ZINC FOR BOTH MEN AND WOMEN
Although zinc is often regarded as a male nutrient, it is indeed essential for the reproductive organs of both genders. In men, benign prostrate enlargement is almost epidemic in men over 50 and this is strongly tied in with inadequate zinc intake over many years. Couples who wish to start a family would both be advised to add a 30mg zinc supplement to their nutrient intake. In women, zinc deficiency can lead to a host of pregnancy-related problems. Zinc levels generally are lower in women who experience PMT. It is thought that a deficiency may decrease progesterone production and may lead to cravings for sweets and salty food.
ARE WE GETTING ENOUGH ZINC? Zinc is frequently inadequate in Western diets. The MAFF survey 1994 showed that 31% of the population (men and women equally) had a dietary intake below the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI). There are many reasons for this: chiefly the refining of cereals which remove up to 90% of the zinc; secondly, the trend towards eating less animal-derived protein such as beef (beef being one of the largest zinc containing foods); thirdly, the high diet content of caffeine and certain medications interferes with zinc absorption.
HOW WILL WE KNOW IF WE ARE DEFICIENT? For once, that is quite easy! There is a simple test that anyone can perform at home: it is known as ‘the taste test’. Simply take a swig of zinc sulphate in liquid form (obtainable from health food stores) and swish it around in your mouth. If the taste is bitter you do not have a deficiency. If however you taste nothing, you need to replenish your body’s supply.
HOW MUCH DO WE NEED? The daily RNI for men is 9.5mg and for women 7mg. Zinc and copper are antagonists so if anyone takes 15 to 20mg of zinc they would be advised to take 1mg of copper to keep the balance correct.
Des Sheehan LCPH RMANN DIP IRID
Des Sheehan has been in healthcare for more than 20 years and practices Homoeopathy, Nutrition and Iridology in Rayleigh.
This article first appeared in issue 6 (Spring 2007) of Healthy Life – Mind, Body & Soul Magazine