Zinc is a trace element required by our bodies in small amounts for proper functioning. It is involved in the activity of over 300 enzymes, which are proteins that catalyse chemical reactions within cells. Zinc also plays a role in DNA synthesis, cell division, immune function, cell growth, wound healing, and the formation of proteins.
Functions of Zinc
- Immune function: Zinc is essential for the proper functioning of the immune system, as it helps in the development and activation of T-cells, which are responsible for fighting infections.
- Wound healing: Zinc plays a vital role in the body’s ability to repair skin and tissues, as it is involved in the production of collagen and other proteins necessary for wound healing.
- Growth and development: Zinc is necessary for the proper growth and development of the foetus during pregnancy, as well as for children and adolescents.
- Enzymatic function: As mentioned earlier, zinc is a crucial component of more than 300 enzymes involved in various physiological processes.
Good Sources of Zinc
Zinc can be found in various food sources, both plant-based and animal-based. These include:
- Oysters: Among the richest sources of zinc, oysters provide a substantial amount of this essential mineral.
- Red meat and poultry: Zinc is found in significant amounts in beef, lamb, and chicken.
- Shellfish: Shrimp, crab, and lobster are also good sources of zinc.
- Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas contain zinc, though it is less bioavailable than in animal sources.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, and pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc.
- Dairy products: Milk, yogurt, and cheese contain moderate amounts of zinc.
- Whole grains: Brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread provide zinc, but they also contain phytates, which can reduce its absorption.
How Much Zinc Do We Need?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended daily intake of zinc varies depending on age, sex, and life stage. Here are some general guidelines:
- Infants 0-6 months*: 2 mg/day (milligrams)
- Infants 7-12 months: 3 mg/day
- Children 1-3 years: 3 mg/day
- Children 4-8 years: 5 mg/day
- Children 9-13 years: 8 mg/day
- Adolescents 14-18 years (males): 11 mg/day
- Adolescents 14-18 years (females): 9 mg/day
- Adults 19 years and older (men): 11 mg/day
- Adults 19 years and older (women): 8 mg/day
- Pregnant women: 11 mg/day
- Breastfeeding women: 12 mg/day
* The value for infants up to 6 months old is adequate intake (AI)
It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional to determine your specific zinc needs.
What are the Signs of Zinc Deficiency?
Zinc deficiency is relatively uncommon in developed countries, but it can occur in certain situations. Some common signs and symptoms include:
- Growth retardation in children
- Delayed wound healing
- Impaired immune function
- Loss of appetite
- Taste and smell disturbances
- Skin rashes
- Hair loss
If you suspect you may be deficient in zinc, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and treatment.
What Happens If I Take Too Much Zinc?
Excessive zinc intake can lead to zinc toxicity, which can cause various symptoms and complications. Some common signs of zinc overdose include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal cramps
- Loss of appetite
- Reduced immune function
- Copper deficiency
It’s essential to follow the recommended daily intake guidelines and consult with a healthcare professional before taking zinc.