Zinc is essential for a strong immune system, but it also plays a role in skin health and can reduce the risk of some age-related diseases.
Because the body doesn’t naturally produce zinc, it must be obtained from food or supplements.
Strong immune system
Zinc stimulates particular immune cells and reduces oxidative stress. It has been shown to reduce the risk of infections and promote immune response hence why it is a very good weapon against the common cold and the flu.
Studies have shown that 80–92 mg per day of zinc may reduce the length of the common cold by up to 33%.
Zinc for the skin
Zinc is involved in every step of wound healing, from repairing cell membranes to managing oxidative stress (anti-aging), tissue generation and scar formation.
Zinc for gut healing and gut health
Zinc supports the function of mucous membranes, making it important in gut health. Zinc helps prevent gut permeability or leaky gut and can also help to heal the existing leaky gut.
Signs of deficiency
Zinc deficiency is not uncommon and can occur when the consumption of foods containing zinc is reduced, if the body has trouble absorbing the zinc found in foods, or drinking a lot of tap water containing copper, as high copper displaces zinc.
Vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk since their diet contains less food naturally high in zinc, and the plant foods that are high in zinc also contain phytates which prevent the absorption of zinc.
Signs of zinc deficiency can be loss of taste and smell, hair loss, digestive problems, craving salty and sweet foods, low immunity, slowed ability to heal wounds and poor concentration and memory.
Foods high in zinc
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 14mg of zinc per day, and women need 8mg at a minimum.
Oysters are really high in zinc and red meat is relatively high too, but unfortunately, all other foods contain a lot less meaning getting enough zinc in your diet can prove challenging.
- Oysters: 32mg in 6 oysters
- Red meat: 5mg zinc in 100g
- Crab: 6.5mg in 85g
- Baked beans: 5.8mg per cup
- Lentils: 3mg per cup
- Chicken, dark meat: 2.4mg in 85g
- Pumpkin seeds: 2.2mg in 28g
- Black beans: 2mg per cup
- Yogurt: 1.7mg in 225g
- Cashews: 1.6mg in 28g
- Cheese, Swiss: 1.2mg in 28g
Even if a food is high in zinc, your body may not be able to absorb it, as this depends on how the food is prepared and what you eat with it. For example, nuts, seeds and legumes are high in zinc, but they also contain phytates that bind to zinc preventing the body from absorbing the zinc. This can be prevented by soaking the beans or nuts for several hours, which releases the zinc from the phytate, something vegetarians and vegans should pay particular attention to in order to prevent zinc deficiency
How to take zinc and how much to take
If you are taking a B-complex you may consider taking this away from the zinc as the folic acid in the complex can prevent the absorption of zinc.
Iron supplements should be taken away from zinc for the same reasons as above.
Zinc should be taken with food as it can make you feel nauseous if taken on an empty stomach.
I recommend adding a minimum of 10mg zinc supplement to your daily regime to ensure your zinc levels are adequate, this can be increased to 25mg in times of higher needs such as illness.
ReferencesThe immune system and the impact of zinc during aging
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2702361/ doi: 10.1186/1742-4933-6-9
Zinc Supplementation Decreases Incidence of Infections in the Elderly: Effect of Zinc on Generation of Cytokines and Oxidative Stress