You may have heard of zinc as the key to supporting your immune system when fighting the common cold, but this essential mineral plays important roles in growth and development, the immune response, neurological function, and reproduction. Today on the blog, we're breaking down all the best uses for zinc, and how to know if you’re getting enough.
Zinc and Your Body
Humans need small amounts of certain minerals to effectively function and maintain cellular health. Zinc is an essential trace element, which means small amounts of this mineral are critical to supporting human health. It’s found in many critical biological functions, including playing a role in over 300 different enzyme reactions. Zinc has been found to be critical for gene expression, protein synthesis, and DNA synthesis — making it ultimately essential for optimum growth and development.
Zinc and Your Immune System
While Vitamin C gets most of the credit for supporting healthy immune function, zinc is just as — if not more — effective towards fighting off the sniffles when they arrive. When zinc levels are lower, the amount of immune cells in our body decrease, too. However, when we have healthy zinc levels, it can increase the number of immune cells and help support immune responses to any viruses or bacterial infections that can arise.
Zinc and Hormones
We need to incorporate zinc into our diets for the proper production and regulation of our hormones. When we don’t get enough, our hormones can become out of balance and not function effectively, leading to symptoms such as feelings of exhaustion, weight gain, or added stress. Zinc particularly impacts hormones in the thyroid, progesterone, and cortisol. In thyroid hormones, zinc is needed specifically for the conversion of T4 hormones to T3 hormones, which is essential for energy production in cells. Zinc also is responsible for helping thyroid hormone receptors in the hypothalamus adequately gauge whether we have sufficient hormone levels or not.
Zinc is also important for the functioning of important sex hormones in the body. It naturally supports healthy testosterone levels in both men and women. In fact, supplementation of zinc has been shown to support fertility in men and healthy pregnancies for women. Zinc also supports the production of progesterone in women, which encourages healthy ovulation in women.
Zinc and Heart Health
We need adequate amounts of zinc to maintain the health of the cells in our cardiovascular system, which is key to supporting our overall heart health. Additionally, zinc’s antioxidant properties support relief against oxidative stress, which can directly impact the heart, as well as supporting lower inflammation levels in the body.
Zinc and Brain Health
Zinc’s antioxidant properties make it key to supporting a healthy brain by supporting the brain’s protection against oxidative stress. Zinc’s role in effective cellular development also highly impact the brain, as it supports the growth of neurons that rapidly fire in our brain that keep our cognitive function in tact. When we have healthy zinc levels in our body, communication between neurons can thrive.
Zinc and Nutrient Absorption
Ensuring we get enough zinc in our diets can benefit our digestive habits, too. Zinc is essential for the production of strong stomach acids that help break down food, which then leads to effective absorption of the nutrients in the food we eat.
If we don’t get enough zinc in our diets, we might not absorb the nutrients we need from our food. During digestion, zinc ions are released and become absorbed in the small intestine. Zinc’s role in enzymatic function supports these healthy digestive habits by attaching to over 300 enzymes to break down molecules, many of which are in our stomach and help us break down food and absorb its nutrients. When we don’t get enough zinc in our diets, our digestive system can become impaired and we can lose many of the health benefits from what we’re eating.
Zinc and Your Diet — Are You Getting Enough?
While we can get zinc from many foods, deficiency isn’t completely uncommon. When we’re deficient in zinc, our body is unable to produce the healthy cells we need. Common side effects of zinc deficiency include a loss of appetite, slow growth, ad poor immune system function.
We can make sure we’re getting enough zinc by incorporating foods rich in the mineral into our diet. These include seafood, shellfish, chicken, red meat, and fortified breakfast cereals. If these foods don’t fit your diet or you’re looking for an extra boost to protect your immune system, supplementation is also an option. If you’re concerned about whether you might be deficient, talk to your doctor to find a solution that’s right for you.