HEALTH BENEFITS OF ZINC
WHAT DOES ZINC DO FOR YOU BODY?
Zinc keeps your immune system strong. It is a “gatekeeper” of your immune function. It’s a key player in the signaling between your body’s immune tolerance and defense systems. Zinc has antioxidant properties, and it’s essential in the development of T-cells, which are your body’s guards against antigens. The full details of the zinc-immunity connection aren’t yet fully understood, but studies clearly link zinc supplements to the relief of some immune dysfunctions.
Zinc supports the function of mucous membranes and skin tissue cells which supports healing. It’s involved in every step in wound healing, from repairing cell membranes to managing oxidative stress, tissue generation and scar formation.
Some forms of zinc may reduce the length of a cold: One study suggests that when rhinovirus, the virus behind the common cold, encounters zinc gluconate in the nasal passages, the mineral beats down the virus and keeps it from multiplying. In another study, people who took zinc gluconate lozenges got over their cold one day faster on average than people who took zinc acetate lozenges.
Although zinc occurs naturally in food, it isn’t easy for the body to store— it’s bound by phytates (phytic acid, occurring in plants, especially cereal grains, capable of forming insoluble complexes with calcium, zinc, iron, and other nutrients and interfering with their absorption by the body) and blocked by folic acid. It also competes for absorption with copper.
That’s why it is important to take zinc supplements with copper, and make sure to take it at the right time of day.
HOW MUCH ZINC DO I NEED?
Zinc is easy to find, but hard to get. Since your body doesn’t have a way to store or make zinc, you need to get enough zinc in your diet each day. Men need 11mg of zinc per day, and women need 8mg.
Oysters are mega-high in zinc, but unless you’re tossing back an oyster on the half-shell daily, you’ll want to add more zinc to your diet. Lots of foods contain zinc, and meat is the most convenient source of this essential mineral. The challenge is that the zinc in some foods can’t be used by your body, and other foods may not fit into your diet.
Here’s a list of the top zinc-containing foods:
Oysters: 74mg per serving
Beef: 7mg in 3oz
Crab: 6.5mgin 3oz
Baked beans: 5.8mg per cup
Lentils: 3mg per cup
Breakfast cereal, fortified: 2.8mg per serving (varies by cereal type)
Chicken, dark meat: 2.4mg in 3oz
Pumpkin seeds: 2.2mg in 1 oz
Black beans: 2mg per cup
Yogurt: 1.7mg in 8oz
Cashews: 1.6mg in 1oz
Cheese, Swiss: 1.2mg in 1oz
Oatmeal, instant: 1.1mg in 1 packet
Oysters are nature’s super zinc supplement. One oyster contains over six times the daily requirement for men and nine times the recommendation for women. If you love oysters and can enjoy one a day, you’re all set with zinc!
The rest of us have to get creative to make sure we’re getting enough. Even if the labels say foods contain a healthy dose of zinc, your body may not be able to absorb as much as you want. It depends on how the food is prepared and what you eat with it. Keep reading for details.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO GET ZINC?
First of all, be mindful of how much zinc vs. copper you’re taking. (Note: avocado is the best source of copper.) When taken in high doses, folic acid may impair your body’s zinc metabolism. So, don’t take high doses of folic acid with zinc.
While beans and lentils score high on the zinc meter, they also contain phytates that bind to zinc. This makes the zinc unable to be absorbed by your body, so all that healthy zinc goes down the drain. (Literally.) To get enough zinc, steer away from unleavened grains such as crackers. If you eat bread, look for bread containing sprouted grains.
You can also soak beans and lentils for several hours before cooking them. This releases the zinc from the phytates to make it more absorbable. To play it safe, vegetarians should aim to get 50% more zinc than meat-eaters to ensure they reach their daily requirements.
If you want to make sure you’re hitting your daily recommended dose of zinc, the safest bet is to take a zinc supplement. You’ll see zinc listed as zinc sulfate, zinc gluconate, zinc acetate, and zinc orotate. Don’t worry — research says they’re all equally bioavailable, absorbable, and tolerated. Some zinc lozenges, marketed for sore throats, also apply as a supplement but note that some zinc nasal sprays have been linked to a loss of smell.
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THE BEST ZINC SUPPLEMENT?
Follow these two steps:
Don’t take zinc and folic acid at the same time. Many multivitamins contain both, and that folic acid may block your body from metabolizing the zinc alongside it. (This is one of the reasons you should throw away your multivitamin.)
Make sure your zinc supplement also contains copper. You can actually deplete your copper levels by taking zinc on its own, which is why you want to take them together.
Bonus benefit: Zinc and copper combine to become a boosted antioxidant enzyme called copper-zinc superoxide dismutase (CuZnSOD), which helps your body fight oxidative stress.
HOW DO YOU TAKE A ZINC SUPPLEMENT?
Some supplements are best absorbed when they’re taken without food. Zinc is one of them. However, zinc may upset your stomach if you take it without anything in your system. That’s why we recommend taking zinc with Copper with food for most people — you’ll still get all the good stuff thanks to science-backed doses of zinc and copper.
Alcohol reduces your body’s ability to absorb zinc. So, if you like a glass of wine or cocktail in the evening, don’t take your supplement at night.
Taking any antibiotics? Pop your zinc two hours before or four to six hours after you take antibiotics, or the interaction will reduce effectiveness of both.
With the right zinc supplement, you’ll make sure your body has all that they need to keep your systems going strong.
Brown KH, Rivera JA, Bhutta Z, Gibson RS, King JC, et al. International Zinc Nutrition Consultative Group (IZiNCG) technical document #1. Assessment of the risk of zinc deficiency in populations and options for its control. Food Nutr Bull. 2004;25:S99–203.
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FAO/WHO. 2nd ed. Bangkok, Thailand: 2004. Expert Consultation on Human Vitamin and Mineral Requirements, Vitamin and mineral requirements in human nutrition: Report of joint FAO/WHO expert consolation; p. 341
. International Zinc Nutrition Consultative Group (IZiNCG)
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