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18 Powerful Benefits Of Zinc, Including Boosting Immunity And Combating Cancer

Medically reviewed by Dr. Timothy M. Marshall, Ph.D
by
18 Powerful Benefits Of Zinc, Including Boosting Immunity And Combating Cancer October 4, 2018

Zinc is most popularly known for boosting immunity and keeping the common cold at bay. In addition to its role in keeping the body’s immune system strong and preventing infection, this trace mineral is important for a multitude of functions, including energy production, alertness, mood, and healthy brain function. It also plays a central role in hormone production, digestion, neuroprotection, and healing processes in the brain and body.  And there’s more – but you’ll need to read on to learn all the amazing benefits of this remarkable health-promoting and healing mineral.

18 Powerful Benefits Of Zinc

What Does Zinc Do To Your Body?

Zinc is found in cells throughout the body. It strengthens your immunity and even contributes to the production of proteins and DNA. It also helps in wound healing.

Zinc is also present in all the body tissues and is imperative for healthy cell division. It has antioxidant benefits too – the mineral fights free radical damage and can even slow down aging. That’s about zinc in a nutshell. For more detailed information on the benefits, keep reading.

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What Functions Does Zinc Have in Your Body?

Zinc is found in virtually all of the body’s 30-100 trillion cells and plays an important role in over 100 enzyme systems in the human body. Along with its companion nutrients, such as magnesium and B-vitamins, it is required for healthy cell division and the formation of new cells. It’s also an important antioxidant mineral that is needed for the proper function of the powerful antioxidant enzyme, Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD), which soaks up highly reactive, free radicals before they harm delicate cellular components. Though, for this anti-aging enzyme to work properly, it needs adequate levels of both copper and zinc – with a deficiency of either element resulting in impaired function of this important, protective enzyme system.

That’s just the beginning. For more information on the benefits, keep reading.

What Are The Benefits Of Zinc?

1. Builds Immunity

Benefits Of Zinc - Builds Immunity Pinit

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Zinc plays a key role in your body’s immunity to bacteria, viruses, and fungi. In studies conducted on both young adults and the elderly, zinc supplementation was found to decrease oxidative stress and halt the generation of inflammatory cytokines (1). Zinc deficiency weakens the immune system in both humans and animals, increasing a person’s susceptibility to colds and infections (2).

Due to its inhibitory effect on viruses, the mineral works miraculously well in preventing and treating the common cold. Though you want to make sure you get a form of zinc that produces lots of zinc ions (Zn2+) when consumed. The reason for this is, it’s the zinc ions that inhibit viral replication by binding to the viral RNA. The form of zinc that produces the most ions is zinc acetate with zinc sulfate and zinc gluconate (commonly used in cold formulas) producing lesser amounts, but coming in a close second.

In addition to its immune strengthening effects, zinc also promotes faster wound healing as well. And according to the World Health Organization, zinc supplementation might also help boost respiratory health in children (3). This makes a lot of sense given its important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body, but you don’t want to overdo it. All you need is between 15-30 mg per day for a strong immune system and optimal health.

Too much zinc (> 30 mg per day) can potentially low copper stores in the body, which is another trace element important for a strong immune system. So, it’s recommended to have your copper level periodically tested if you’re taking a daily zinc supplement. Many multivitamins have zinc balanced with a small amount of copper to prevent a copper deficiency, but if you eat a lot of foods rich in copper, such as almonds or almond butter, other nuts, seeds, chocolate, legumes, avocados, whole grains, and seafood, you don’t need to worry about your copper and should be fine as long as you don’t overdo the zinc.

It’s a good idea to have your copper level tested if you’re taking a daily zinc supplement that exceeds the RDA of 15 mg and are experiencing unusual fatigue, muscle weakness, low thyroid, or skin issues, which may signify a copper deficiency. Remember, everything functions in balance.

2. Helps Combat Cancer

An American study speaks of how zinc can aid cancer treatment. The mineral reduces the development of inflammatory blood vessels and induces cancer cell death (4). Other studies have suggested that zinc can halt the proliferation of esophageal cancer cells. Zinc and other nutrient deficiencies (e.g., magnesium, selenium, vitamin D) are common in cancer patients, suggesting a link between these nutrients and the possible prevention of various forms of cancer (5).

Did You Know?

Zinc is the 24th most common element in the planet’s crust. It makes up 0.0075% of the Earth’s crust.

3. Aids Diabetes Treatment

Zinc supplementation can also have a beneficial effect on glycemic control (6). As per other reports, women with prediabetes were found to be deficient in zinc and other elements (e.g. vitamin D).

Zinc has also been found to prevent amylin (a protein) from forming clumps in the body, which can contribute to diabetes and other chronic ailments (7). The mineral is also needed to produce insulin, which plays a central role in diabetes. Zinc is also required for the production of pancreatic enzymes, which are digestive enzymes essential for the proper breakdown and utilization of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in the foods we eat.

4. Protects The Heart

As an antioxidant mineral, studies have shown that zinc can protect the heart muscles against oxidative stress that might otherwise harm the heart in the long run. It strengthens the heart –  along with three other important antioxidant minerals, magnesium, copper, and selenium – and helps the heart deal with oxidative stress and other related issues (8).

Zinc can also regulate heartbeat. Research has shown that patients with congestive heart failure often have zinc deficiency. The mineral also regulates the way calcium travels through the heart (9). Other studies have revealed that sufficient zinc intake could help prevent angina pectoris (severe pain in the chest) (10).

Like other mineral deficiencies, zinc deficiency can also lead to high blood pressure, which might eventually lead to cardiac issues.

5. Might Aid Weight Loss

Recent studies have revealed that obese individuals tend to have low levels of zinc. This means that boosting dietary zinc could have a positive effect on energy metabolism and weight loss, though there are other factors involved as well.

Obese patients on zinc supplementation had improved body mass indices, loss in weight, and even showed improvements in triglyceride levels. This could be because zinc plays a strong role in energy metabolism, and a zinc deficiency reduces the body’s production of ATP – the body’s energy currency that fuels all body processes.

A chronic zinc deficiency has been shown to redirect the body’s energy reserves to fat storage rather than fat-burning. Another reason to make sure you’re getting enough of this versatile mineral.

[ Read: How To Lose Weight Fast At Home ]

6. Can Boost Brain Health

Several studies have spoken about the beneficial effects of zinc on brain health. One such study talks about how the mineral has been successfully employed to treat certain types of schizophrenia (11).

Zinc also plays a strong role in neuroprotection (i.e. protecting brain cells), promoting healing processes in the brain and nervous system, and modulating the body’s response to stress. In fact, the highest amount of zinc in our bodies is found in our brains (in the hippocampus).

Zinc supplementation was also found to enhance learning and memory (12).

7. Strengthens The Bones

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Zinc is an important mineral for the health of our teeth and bones.  Along with other bone nutrients such as magnesium, vitamin D, K2, and boron – zinc was found to have a beneficial effect on preventing and reducing bone loss. The mineral can be used in various forms to prevent and even treat osteoporosis (13).

Zinc deficiency has been linked to deterioration of bone metabolism and was found to stimulate bone formation and mineralization, two important aspects of bone health. This is partly due to its important role in protein synthesis.

Zinc has also been observed to be an important trace element for oral health. The mineral has antibacterial properties and is effective against oral health issues like gingivitis, dental caries, and periodontitis (14).

8. Improve Vision

The retina is known to contain a high concentration of zinc. This mineral works with vitamin A in the formation of melanin, which is a pigment that protects the eye. Some evidence also suggests that zinc supplementation can help prevent age-related macular degeneration (15).

Poor night vision and cloudy cataracts have also been linked to zinc deficiency (16).

9. Promotes Digestive Health

It has been found that people with zinc deficiency often experience digestive disturbances, the most common of them being difficulty in digesting protein. This is because zinc serves an important role in regulating gastric acidity as well as producing digestive enzymes in the small intestine.

The mineral can also help prevent several gastrointestinal issues. This stems from the fact that zinc can enhance the health and integrity of the gastrointestinal (GI) epithelial barrier function, which can help GI issues (17). Digestive issues, including diarrhea, are some of the common signs of zinc deficiency.

[ Read: 15 Foods That Help With Digestion ]

10. Can Be Helpful During Pregnancy

Research has shown that low birth weight infants whose mothers were on zinc supplementation during pregnancy had a reduced risk of diarrhea and dysentery.

According to the World Health Organization, zinc deficiency might lead to intra-uterine deficiency during pregnancy. Maternal zinc deficiency might also compromise the health of the infant and lead to poor birth outcomes.

Population studies show that over 80% of the world’s pregnant women are deficient in zinc (18). Along with other nutrients such as vitamins C, D, and folate, zinc was also found to promote favorable outcomes during pregnancy as well as lactation.

Zinc is one of the most important minerals for fertility in both men and women (19). Low levels of zinc have also been linked to melasma (dark skin coloration that occurs especially during pregnancy) (20).

11. Might Relieve PMS Symptoms

When taken with extra magnesium (400-600 mg/d) and vitamin B6 (5-20 mg/d), zinc was found to relieve cramping and pain related to PMS (21). This might be because it improves blood flow to the uterus and also reduces inflammation.

When taking vitamin B6, It’s important to remember that B-vitamins work best when taken together, so if you do try a little extra magnesium and B6 – it’s good to add a high-quality multivitamin that has the full-spectrum of B-complex vitamins.  Just make sure it’s free of synthetic food colors (e.g. FD&C Red 40, Yellow 6) and unhealthy preservatives such as BHT, BHA, and TBHQ.

12. Boosts Men’s Sexual Health

Zinc enables the male body to produce testosterone, which is one reason a deficiency of zinc can also lead to erectile dysfunction. Studies have shown that zinc supplementation can increase testosterone, thereby treating male sexual problems – erectile dysfunction being one of them (22).

Consuming 15-30 milligrams of zinc per day is sufficient in preventing and correcting a zinc deficiency in most men, and if zinc deficient, a well-absorbed supplement such as zinc bound to glycinate, citrate, or monomethionine will increase a man’s testosterone level.

Another study showed that one’s sense of smell could be important for libido – and that zinc deficiency can decrease the sense of smell (23). This pretty much means that low levels of zinc indirectly decrease libido. Adequate zinc levels were also found to support prostate health.

13. Can Fight Chronic Fatigue

One Belgian study states how zinc supplements can help treat chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). CFS is accompanied by increased oxidative stress – and since zinc fights oxidative stress, it can help fight the condition (24). As a result, zinc can also increase energy levels.

14. Is Beneficial For Bodybuilding

Though there is less information on this, some reliable sources say that zinc can help with muscle growth and repair. It can also aid protein synthesis – which can be beneficial in bodybuilding.

Did You Know?

After copper, aluminum, and iron, zinc is the most commonly used metal in the world’s industries.

15. Detoxifies The Body

Zinc can help in detoxification by enhancing the function of the liver and kidneys. Zinc deficiency is often linked to liver cirrhosis, and adequate levels of the mineral can prevent oxidative liver damage (25). The mineral is also helpful in preventing kidney disease, protecting against cadmium and mercury exposure, and keeping the organs functioning perfectly (26).

16. Treats Tinnitus

Benefits Of Zinc - Treats Tinnitus Pinit

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Studies show that patients with tinnitus have low levels of zinc. Though we need more research in this area, zinc can be a potential treatment for tinnitus (27).

17. Treats Acne

Reports suggest that acne patients are usually low in zinc. The mineral is known to kill acne-causing bacteria. It also fights inflammation together with other important anti-inflammatory, antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, E, and selenium – which have all been found to be low in low who suffer from acne and other skin problems.

With respect to vitamin A, you want to look for the animal form of this nutrient (retinyl acetate or palmitate, retinol, or derived from cod liver oil), which is more potent and active in the body than plant-form vitamin A – otherwise known as beta-carotene. Zinc and vitamin A function as companion nutrients in the body and play a critical role in cellular growth, repair, and healing of the skin and all tissues.

A good starting dose for zinc is 15-30 mg per day, coupled with 10,000 IU of animal-form, vitamin A per day, which you can take short-term for 2-3 months, while you’re replenishing your vitamin A stores. After 3 months, it’s recommended to reduce the dose of vitamin A to 2-3 times per week, which will give your body an extra 20-30,000 IU of vitamin A to prevent infection, reduce inflammation, and assist in the healing process. Vitamin A is very safe, but like all fat-soluble vitamins, it can accumulate, so it’s good to take occasional breaks in your supplementation once you restore your body to a healthy level, which can be confirmed with a simple blood test.

Zinc also reduces the activation of keratinocytes – which are cells that produce keratin (a protein that binds the cells together). Excess keratin can lead to blocked pores and acne.

These properties of zinc can make your skin clear. It might also help with healing scars and preventing herpes outbreaks. You can get creams and ointments from the pharmacy with zinc as the primary constituent. Check with your doctor before using them, though. With the aforementioned antioxidants above, the anti-aging benefits of zinc can also help prevent wrinkles and age spots.

[ Read: How To Get Rid Of Pimples (Acne) Overnight Fast ]

18. Can Boost Hair Growth

Zinc helps you maintain healthy hair. A deficiency in the mineral can lead to the deterioration of the protein structure that makes up the hair follicles. Making sure you get adequate zinc can help in this aspect.

Well, we are done with the benefits. But to enjoy these benefits, one must take in adequate amounts of zinc.

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What Is The Recommended Daily Allowance Of Zinc?

AgeMaleFemalePregnancyLactation
0–6 months2 mg*2 mg*
7–12 months3 mg3 mg
1–3 years3 mg3 mg
4–8 years5 mg5 mg
9–13 years8 mg8 mg
14–18 years11 mg9 mg12 mg13 mg
19+ years11 mg8 mg11 mg12 mg
* Adequate Intake (AI)

In case you don’t meet the requirement, you can become zinc deficient. But how do you know if you are deficient in zinc? Well, these symptoms can tell you.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Zinc Deficiency?

The most common symptoms include:

– Changes in appetite

– Unexplained weight gain or loss

– Hair loss

– Chronic fatigue syndrome

– Infertility

– Digestive problems (most commonly, diarrhea)

– Low immunity

– Poor concentration and memory

– Slow wound healing

– Worsened PMS symptoms

How can you avoid these symptoms and get adequate levels of zinc? Simple – consume foods rich in the mineral

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What Are The Foods Rich In Zinc?

Here are some of the richest sources of zinc. Do keep in mind that the absorption rate of zinc is better in animal-based foods than plant foods.

  • Lamb (3 ounces contain 2.9 milligrams of zinc, which meets 35% DV)
  • Grass-fed beef (3 ounces contain 2.6 milligrams of zinc, which meets 32% DV)
  • Garbanzo beans (1 cup cooked chickpeas contains 2.5 milligrams of zinc, which meets 31% DV)
  • Pumpkin seeds (¼ cup contains 1.6 milligrams of zinc, which meets 20% DV)
  • Chicken and turkey (3 ounces of each contain 1 milligram of zinc, which meets 12.5% DV)
  • Eggs (1 large egg contains 0.6 milligrams of zinc, which meets 7% DV)
  • Mushrooms (1 cup contains 0.6 milligrams of zinc, which meets 7% DV)
  • Salmon (3 ounces contain 0.5 milligrams of zinc, which meets 6% DV)
  • Cocoa powder (1 tablespoon contains 0.3 milligrams of zinc, which meets 3% DV)

You might also want to look at supplements. Zinc is found in most multivitamin and multimineral supplements. They often contain zinc in the form of zinc sulfate, zinc acetate, or zinc gluconate, though the best-absorbed forms of zinc are the glycinate, citrate, and monomethionine forms of the mineral, which are found in higher quality supplements.

All good. But wait – don’t go overboard.

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What Are The Side Effects Of Excess Zinc?

  • Issues During Pregnancy And Breastfeeding

Excess zinc can cause complications during pregnancy and breastfeeding..

  • Other Side Effects

Excess zinc supplementation can also cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, loss of appetite, headaches, and diarrhea.

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Conclusion

Though needed in trace amounts, zinc is an important nutrient for a strong immune system, healthy skin, hormonal production and regulation, digestion and energy and plays a strong role in learning, memory, and healthy brain function. Effects of its deficiency can be quite troublesome. And for that reason, it’s important to include adequate zinc in your diet. Your body will thank you.

Tell us how this post has helped you. Just leave your thoughts in the box below.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

What happens if you take zinc supplements on an empty stomach?

You might feel nauseated and also have an upset stomach. Taking supplements in between meals with water can help best in the absorption of zinc.

What is the difference between zinc and zinc picolinate?

Zinc is not easily absorbed by itself. The absorption can be improved when it is attached to another substance (picolinic acid, in this case) that is absorbed well. The resultant combination is zinc picolinate. Zinc is just the mineral.

Which forms of zinc are best absorbed?

These are zinc picolinate, zinc citrate, zinc acetate, zinc monomethionine, and zinc glycerate. These are the forms of elemental zinc. From foods, zinc from animal-based sources is best absorbed.

References

  1. Zinc in human health…”. US National Library of Medicine.
  2. How to boost your immune system”. Harvard Medical School.
  3. Zinc supplementation in children with…”. World Health Organization.
  4. Zinc in cancer prevention”. US National Library of Medicine.
  5. Zinc can halt the growth of cancer cells…”. ScienceDaily.
  6. Effects of zinc supplementation…”. Diabetology and Metabolic Syndrome.
  7. Preventing diabetes damage…”. ScienceDaily.
  8. Zinc supply affects cardiac health”. ScienceDaily.
  9. Zinc is crucial for heart health”. Dr. Mercola.
  10. High-dose zinc to…”. US National Library of Medicine.
  11. Zinc, the brain and behavior”. US National Library of Medicine.
  12. High dose zinc supplementation…”. US National Library of Medicine.
  13. Role of nutritional zinc in the…”. US National Library of Medicine.
  14. Zinc: A precious trace element…”. US National Library of Medicine.
  15. Is zinc good for vision?”. WebMD.
  16. Zinc”. American Optometric Association.
  17. Zinc and gastrointestinal disease”. US National Library of Medicine.
  18. Zinc supplementation during pregnancy”. World Health Organization.
  19. Ten ways to boost your fertility”. Dailymail.
  20. Evaluation of the serum zinc…”. US National Library of Medicine.
  21. Zinc treatment prevents…”. US National Library of Medicine.
  22. Zinc status and serum testosterone…”. US National Library of Medicine.
  23. Olfactory sensitivity and sexual desire…”. Ingenta Connect.
  24. Lower serum zinc in chronic…”. US National Library of Medicine.
  25. Zinc and liver disease”. US National Library of Medicine.
  26. Zinc in kidney disease”. US National Library of Medicine.
  27. The role of zinc in the treatment…”. US National Library of Medicine.

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