The Many Functions of Zinc

Zinc is an essential trace element. It is foundational to so many physiological functions in our body, and you can only get it through your diet. It plays a crucial role in immune function, gut healing, protein synthesis, wound healing and gene expression. Aside from Iron, zinc is the second most abundant mineral in the human body. A recent study showed it is common to see zinc deficiency, in fact almost 1 in 5 people are at risk of zinc deficiency.

Zinc and Gut Health 

You may have heard the basic benefits of zinc such as faster recovery time from colds and flus, however it goes much further in supporting the inflammatory processes in the body, and is a key player in healing your gut! It has been clinically proven that zinc resolves intestinal permeability (leaky gut) by strengthening the tight junctions in Crohn's patients.  

Are you getting enough in your diet? The benefits of adequate zinc levels are endless.

Health benefits of zinc 

  • Rebuilds your gastrointestinal lining by increasing the tight junctions in the intestinal tract of those with Crohn's' Disease
  • Without enough zinc the body can’t produce hydrochloric acid to aid food digestion. So you need it to make stomach acid!
  • Crucial role in immune function & growth + development
  • Stabilises cells membranes strengthening them against free radicals. Key player in oxidant-antioxidant balance
  • Balances hormones - small deficiency can result in an increased risk of infertility
  • Influences behaviour and learning performance
  • Needed to produce active Vitamin A (retinal) which we need for immune function
  • Other functions: Essential for taste perception, wound healing, sperm production and foetal development
  • Zinc can be stored and brought out to fight inflammation when needed
  • Depressed patients tend to show reduced plasma levels - this correlates with severity of disease
  • Supports metabolism
  • Helps make genetic material DNA and RNA over 10000 transcription factors

 Indications of low zinc levels 

  • Low stomach acid manifesting as indigestion, excessive burping and heart burn
  • Deficiency hinders digestion and absorption (worsening malnutrition) and impairs immune response
  • Frequent thrush and Candida overgrowth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Impaired immunity due to inaccurate transportation of Vitamin A
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Hair loss                                      
  • Mental Health including anxiety and depression
  • Disturbs thyroid function and metabolic rate                 
  • Asthma    
  • Reproductive Health - male & female and low libido
  • Copper and iron deficiencies (UL established due to interference in copper metabolism)
  • Acne and Rashes most skin conditions associated
  • Poor wound healing                  
  • Nail markings

Who is vulnerable to a zinc deficiency?

  • Vegans/Vegetarians  - meat is the most bioavailable form of zinc                
  • Restrictive dieting
  • Poor gut health
  • Elderly
  • Pregnant women
  • Excessive intake of Phytates (eg. lentils, legumes, & grains) which blocks zinc absorption, found in high grain diets!
  • Calcium excessive dietary dairy (500-2000mg) to affect zinc through suppression of stomach acid

Food sources 

The best dietary forms of zinc come from animal sources, where it is not bound by phytates as in plant sources. These include organs meats such as liver, red meat such as beef and lamb, and oysters, scallops, and shellfish.

Plant foods high in zinc can be pumpkin seeds and chickpeas however, as mentioned they are less bioavailable so if you’re looking for a quick fix animal protein is superior. 

Too much is not always a good thing! 

Excessive intake of zinc supplementing can have a downstream toxicity effect and always should be monitored by a practitioner who is checking you plasma (blood) levels.

Monitoring and Measuring Zinc levels 

  • Testing Plasma Zinc in a blood test is the favoured way
  • Imperfections occur whether tests are taken fasting or fed
  • Fasted value is highest reading you can get
  • Intensive exercise drops plasma zinc wait 24 hours
  • Inflammation affects zinc as a result of hiding zinc in liver taken out of circulation part of inflammatory response

Where the research is?

  • High inflammation, estrogen dominance, high oxidative stress load will decrease plasma zinc
  • Ideally 15mmol helps to protect against immunity, digestive function, depression

So what’s the best form of zinc? 

  • Firstly diet and the state of our gut is everything, how our bodies are assimilating and absorbing zinc
  • Zinc picolinate has superior bio-availability however must be prescribed by your practitioner

    Investigating whether you have a zinc deficiency is the first step. Self supplementing is not advised.

    If you are interested in testing your zinc level, we recommend booking in for a consult with one of our Naturopaths. Simply click here to book your consult. 
    In the meantime best way to get started is incorporating high bioavailable forms of zinc through your diet, as mentioned above.