Your body is a vessel. What you put into it is what you get out. Eating right, exercise and routine check-ups are important to make sure you are healthy and in the best possible shape. Those who take care of their body will see the benefits in both the short term and the long term. A healthy lifestyle will help you maintain a healthy weight which in turn reduces your risk of developing certain diseases and illnesses such as obesity, diabetes and certain cancers.
Energy is something everyone wishes they had more of. The solution may be as simple as adopting a healthier lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle goes hand-in-hand with increased energy. Feeling good on the inside leads to feeling good on the outside and a higher level of confidence in your day to day life.
Micronutrients Versus Macronutrients
The human body is a very complex organism, containing thousands of parts that work together to make the body as a whole function properly. Nutrition is the fuel that allows your body to carry out life's many processes. Your body needs a wide array of nutrients to meet all of its needs. This includes both macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients, as most people are aware, constitute proteins, carbohydrates and fats that the body needs in large amounts. The body needs micronutrients in much smaller quantities as compared to macronutrients.
Vitamins and minerals make up the category known as micronutrients. Although many of these are needed in small amounts, they are still considered very important to your overall wellbeing. Zinc is one such essential mineral needed by the body in trace amounts to aid in very important life processes.
What Is Zinc?
Most likely you have heard of zinc in some form or fashion, but what is zinc and why is it so important? Zinc is an essential trace element the body needs to carry out certain processes, especially at a cellular level.1 It is found in every type of tissue and organ in the body. The majority of zinc is found in the skeletal system and the surrounding muscle tissue. In general, this mineral is known for its role in the function of the immune system as well as to aid in smell and taste. On a cellular level, zinc aids in cell division and growth. Over 100 enzymes are acted on by this essential nutrient making it necessary to the body's metabolic processes. Zinc is transported by proteins and is known as the second most common transition metal in the human body.
Although zinc is present in all of the body's organs, tissues and fluids, your body is not able to store or manufacture zinc on its own. This means you must consume zinc in your diet daily in order to meet the needed requirements.
Health Benefits of Zinc
Zinc is essential for physiological processes in the body associated with growth, immune function, reproduction and growth. High cholesterol is a very common issue among individuals in the United States. Studies have shown zinc supplements increase the levels of HDL cholesterol, also known as "good" cholesterol while lowering LDL, also known as "bad" cholesterol.2 Depending on your doctor's recommendations, naturally lowering your cholesterol might give you the ability to cut back on or discontinue cholesterol medications.
Research suggests that maintaining recommended levels of zinc in the body can help the body recover from certain sicknesses such as a cold quicker and promote the healing of wounds by helping the blood to clot faster. The reason for this can be attributed to the fact that zinc promotes cell growth which needed to heal wounds. Studies show zinc lozenges are effective for reducing the duration of the common cold by one day if taken within 24 hours of the first symptoms.
There is also evidence that zinc can help with age-related macular degeneration, by slowing the progression of the disease. Not only does zinc provide health but benefits, but in fact, a deficiency in zinc can lead to an increased risk of contracting an illness.
How to Use Zinc
The amount of zinc needed by the body is based on age, gender and whether or not you are pregnant or breastfeeding. The zinc needs of adults stay consistent, but children grow at a faster rate, which means their needs change more frequently.
Men need a slightly higher amount of zinc than women. According to the National Institutes of Health daily zinc recommendations are as follows:
- Adult Women: 8 mg per day
- Adult Men: 11 mg per day
Children are smaller in size and therefore do not require zinc in as high of dosages as adults do. The National Institutes of Health recommends:
- 0-6 months: receive 2 mg per day
- 7-12 months: receive 3 mg per day
- 1-3 years receive: 5 mg per day
- 4-8 years receive: 8 mg per day
- Girls 14-18 years: receive 9 mg per day
- Boys 14-18 years: receive 11 mg per day
- Girls 19 years and older: receive 8 mg per day
- Boys 19 years and older: receive 11 mg per day
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding typically have higher nutrient requirements in general than women who are not pregnant. Pregnant women will need to consume higher amounts of zinc support their growing baby. Most pregnant and breastfeeding women need between 11-13 milligrams of zinc per day.
You should always consult with your doctor or child's pediatrician to discuss your zinc intake and the need for a change in diet or addition of zinc supplements.
How Can I Get the Necessary Levels of Zinc?
As mentioned earlier, your body is not able to produce zinc on its own. This means it must be consumed daily through your diet in the recommended amounts. Often times, eating a well-balanced diet will ensure you receive the required amount of zinc. Everyone leads busy lives and it's hard to eat healthy all the time. This is where supplements come in. If your diet doesn't give you the necessary zinc, taking a supplement will fill in the nutritional gap.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it is recommended to take zinc supplements a couple of hours before eating a meal. There are cases where supplements can cause an upset stomach. If this is the case take zinc with your meal to prevent the occurrence of unwanted upset stomachs.
Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency
Studies suggest there are approximately 2 billion people worldwide who suffer from either mild or severe cases of a zinc deficiency. It is estimated that up to 12 percent of the population in the United States are at risk for zinc deficiency. This is considered a high percentage for a developed country whose population has access to adequate food sources.
A deficiency in zinc can either occur one of two ways. The first way is an inherited condition where the body has a reduced ability to absorb zinc properly. The second way is an absence of adequate zinc in the diet. Both of these paths lead to a zinc deficiency that negatively affects your health.
Because zinc is in every organ and tissue in the body, a deficiency affects every part of the body. The brain3, which is the processing unit for the body can experience mental lethargy, neurosensory disorders, neuropsychiatric disorders and decreased nerve conduction. Psychological disorders such as anorexia have been reported in individuals suffering from a zinc deficiency.4
The reproductive system is adversely affected by a lack of zinc in the diet. Symptoms include3:
- retarded genital development
Additional symptoms3 include thymic atrophy, skin lesions, slower wound healing and acrodermatitis.
Although it sounds obvious, it can be difficult to accurately diagnose a zinc deficiency. A blood test is the best way to diagnose a deficiency. Testing the levels of zinc in plasma5 is a common service provided by most laboratories. Other less common methods include:
- Metabolic Studies
- Excretion of zinc in urine
- Zinc Tolerance Test
If you suspect you suffer from a deficiency of zinc be sure to contact your health care professional for further testing and treatment.
Who is at Risk of a Deficiency?
Everyone needs zinc for their body to be able to carry out certain processes and functions correctly. There are certain groups of people who are at a higher risk for a zinc deficiency than the normal population. These are breastfeeding infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly.
It is important for infants and children to receive adequate quantities of zinc in their diets. Failure to do so can lead to an increased risk of infection and growth retardation.
Pregnant women are at an increased risk of deficiency due to their need for increased amounts of zinc to support the needs of their growing baby. Studies have shown those carrying a child should take extra care to consume adequate amounts of zinc in their diet.
Studies show that upwards of 30 percent of the elderly population have a zinc deficiency.6 It's natural that as you age certain systems and processes are not as efficient as they once were. This is true when it comes to the body's ability to use zinc. The ability to absorb and utilize zinc decreases with age. This statistic puts older individuals at higher risk of developing a deficiency.
What Foods Contain Zinc?
Whether you are a connoisseur of meat or a vegan, there are plenty of foods containing zinc to choose from. Research shows red meat and poultry are the most common foods that the American population receives their zinc from. Vegetarians and vegans need to be aware that plenty of foods from plants contain zinc, but the zinc from these sources are more difficult to absorb than zinc from animal sources. For this reason, it may be necessary to consume extra quantities of these foods in order to receive the recommended amount of zinc. It's worth noting that oysters contain the most zinc per serving compared to any other food. Let's take a look at common food sources containing zinc.
Protein sources are a very common source of zinc. Most shellfish and red meats contain adequate quantities of this essential nutrient. Common protein sources include:
Foods made from dairy products are most notably known as an excellent source of calcium and probiotics, but it is also a good source of zinc. Dairy foods containing zinc include:
Fruit makes a great snack and for some even a healthy dessert. There are several fruit sources that are great sources of zinc. These include:
There are always certain instances where diet is not going to give you everything you need. There's no need to worry if your diet does not provide the necessary amount of zinc. Oral zinc supplements are available for those who want to make sure they are consuming enough zinc in their daily diet.
With crazy, busy schedules it is easy to be tempted by fast food, processed food, and an abundance of poor eating choices. With obesity and bad eating habits on the rise, it's more important now than ever to pay attention to what you put in your body. While zinc is a micronutrient your body needs in trace amounts, it is still a powerful essential nutrient and worth your attention.
Your body is one of the most important investments you can make. After all, you will need it for years to come! Take care to make sure you are receiving adequate amounts of both macronutrients and micronutrients, as well as engaging in healthy exercise. Begin your journey to a healthier you today!