What is Zinc and Why is it Important?
Zinc is an essential mineral found in the body and is needed for our overall well-being. Very little emphasis is usually placed on this dietary element but this mineral is found in our cells of our entire body with a very important role in cell division and cell growth – which means it also plays a vital role in our growth and development from embryo through to adulthood. It plays a role in wound healing, DNA synthesis and protein synthesis. Zinc is also essential for the smell and taste senses. It is important to maintain a constant intake of zinc at decent levels because our bodies do not have good storage system when it comes to this mineral.
Zinc deficiency can lead to several health issues. Some of the most common symptoms of zinc deficiency include:
- weak immune system
- smell issues
- taste issues
- impact on growth
- night vision impairment
- slow healing
Advanced deficiency in zinc can impair sperm quantity and motility. This is back by several studies where in some cases even brief periods of significant zinc deficiency lead to noticeable changes in sperm quality.
Where do I get it?
Zinc is best ingested through beef, lamb and chicken. Fruits and vegetables are not a good source of zinc for the body. Oysters are one of the highest sources of zinc known, with significantly higher levels of zinc than the meats. You are also able to get good levels of zinc through nuts, seeds and dairy. You’ve probably realised by now, the people at most risk of being zinc deficient are vegans. But this can be easily overcome by ensuring the right balance in the diet that includes grains, seeds and nuts. Legumes are also a good source.
There are many different opinions on which zinc form is best when taken as a supplement. It essentially boils down to which one is more effectively absorbed by the body. Although I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer, out of the two most common ones that I see on the market, zinc picolinate seems to come out as superior to zinc gluconate more often in the reports I have read (I have also come across reports which conclude that gluconate is better). I cannot recommend any zinc supplement as being superior to another because I simply haven’t seen any conclusive evidence on this.
The recommended daily dose of Zinc is 11 mg for adult males and 8 mg for adult females. The upper recommended limits are 40 mg for both. However, there are some people who advocate using up to 180 mg for periods of 6 months to address deficiencies (see Charles Poliquin of StrengthSensei). This sounds very high based on the research I’ve done, but Charles claims to have seen positive results at these doses addressing things like fertility in males or getting zinc levels up in vegans. I recommend you speak to your health practitioner though before trying anything like that. High dosages of Zinc can be quite dangerous for your body if not managed carefully.
What happens if you take too much?
Acute adverse effects from high zinc intake include headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps, to name a few. Chronic effects of high zinc intake can include urinary physiological complications, altered iron function, reduced immunity and low copper status. The low copper status comes from the fact that zinc and copper compete with each other for absorption and metabolism (just like magnesium and calcium) so too much zinc can cause a deficiency in copper. It is therefore important that you maintain these in balance because copper, although only needed in small amounts, has essential functions in the body.
Zinc is an essential element for the body’s functioning in an optimum state. We need to ensure we get enough zinc in our diets. Typically, we take in most of our zinc from red meat (beef and lamb) and chicken. Vegetables and fruits have shown to have low levels of zinc. Although supplements are available, we always recommend taking in nutrients through a healthy, balanced diet. Nothing beats natural whole foods when it comes to nutrition and health. This should be your source of zinc and will help ensure you don’t get too much of it. However, if there is a specific deficiency which you are unable to reverse solely from food, then a period of zinc supplementation is an option (while ensuring you balance your copper levels if needed).
Keep growing and stay healthy!