Zinc, an essential nutrient for the body and its overall health, is an external nutrition source for human beings. Because our bodies don’t make zinc, we need to seek it out through foods and supplements.
“Zinc is involved in the activity of 300 enzymes, which makes it very important for things like cell division, DNA, protein synthesis, hormones, and neurotransmitters,” explains Mikell Suzanne Parsons, DC, CCN, DACBN, DACNB, founder and owner of The Natural Path Health Center. “It also seems to have some protective effect against poor reactions to environmental toxins, perhaps due to the boost in immunity and cell regeneration.”
According to Jacob J. Panka, ND, MS, a naturopathic doctor at Northwestern Health Sciences University-Bloomington Clinic, “Zinc is required for cell membrane repair, cellular growth, and immunity system function. Specifically why zinc plays this role is a very complicated answer, but there is research to support all of these findings. The most well-known paper on zinc and immunity was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in 1998.”
Although the research was done decades ago, Panka points out that it “outlines the biological basis for zinc to impact immune function and has been cited in at least 1,770 other research papers.”
A more recent study in 2013 by researchers at Ohio State University states that “zinc helps control infections by gently tapping the brakes on the immune response in a way that prevents out-of-control inflammation that can be damaging and even deadly.
“Zinc salts seem to have the ability to kill some pathogens, and zinc ions have antimicrobial effects. Moreover, its antiviral properties in the gastrointestinal tract can directly influence viral infections in the gut. The antioxidant properties of zinc make it the perfect ally for fighting oxidative stress, another big stressor on the body, and the root cause of many health problems, such as various cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. In addition, adrenal fatigue syndrome (AFS) is linked to oxidative stress, which can be the cause or a symptom of adrenal fatigue,” says Carrie Lam, MD, FAAMFM, ABAARM, co-author of the international best-selling books “Advanced Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome: A Metabolic Approach and Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome Cookbook.”
If you’re low on zinc, Parsons says, you could have slow wound healing, rough skin, inflamed acne, thin and peeling nails, hair loss, and depressed immune system function.
“Zinc is needed for rapidly growing cells, such as nails and hair, so you can see the connection,” Parson explains. “The brain also depends heavily on zinc.”
“Groups at increased risk of zinc deficiency include vegans, vegetarians, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, individuals with chronic inflammatory disease or inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis,” says Taylor Graber, MD, owner of ASAP IVs.
Parsons says that the zinc deficient can also include people who don’t get enough fresh, healthy foods in their diet, who are highly stressed, or those taking medications
As for the dosage, Graber says, “Recommended daily intake is 11 mg/day for adult men, and 8 mg/day for adult women — which is increased to 11 mg/day when pregnant and 12 mg/day when breastfeeding. During viral upper respiratory infections from the common cold, recommended intake is 75 mg/day. This can reduce symptom duration by 33%.”
In 2011, a meta-analysis “concluded that zinc lozenges reduce the duration of cold symptoms by 12-48%, but only at daily doses >75 mg.”
“So, as you can see, the combined anti-inflammatory, immune supportive, and antioxidant properties are why it is worth ensuring you’re getting enough of this crucial mineral,” says Lam. “Finally, a very important, yet often overlooked, function of zinc is that it helps the body use vitamin B6 — essential for good sleep, mood regulation, and AFS recovery.”
As always, consult your health care practitioner before adding zinc to your daily regime.