Can you believe we are on week 61 of our More Than Healthy tips? Today is Tip #61, and we’re talking all about the health benefits of getting the right amount of zinc. I’m guessing most of you have heard about zinc and probably know that it is important for a healthy immune system. But you might be surprised to learn just how important the right amount of zinc is for your health.
Like selenium, which we talked about last week, zinc is another trace mineral that the body only needs in small amounts. Yet it’s necessary for almost 300 enzymes to carry out vital chemical reactions. Zinc is the second most abundant trace mineral in the body, preceded only by iron. It’s found in every cell in the body.
In addition to supporting a healthy immune system, zinc is a major player in the creation of DNA. It’s also crucial for the growth of cells, building proteins, and healing damaged tissue. Zinc is an “essential” nutrient, meaning that the body can’t produce it. We have to get it regularly through the food we eat or through zinc supplements.
Getting the right amount of zinc in your system is important. Similar to other minerals we’ve addressed in our weekly tips, too much zinc isn’t good for you either. There are lots of foods that can provide you with this essential mineral (more on this later), and we always suggest starting there first. Sometimes it is also necessary to work with your doctor and supplement to get your levels to sufficiency.
Signs of zinc deficiency
Zinc deficiency isn’t common in the U.S.. However, some people don’t absorb zinc well due to digestive disorders such as inflammatory bowel diseases or as a side effect of gastrointestinal surgery. In addition, excessive or prolonged diarrhea can lead to a zinc deficiency.
Signs of deficiency include loss of taste or smell (that’s one reason that some doctors treated Covid-19 with zinc), poor appetite, depressed mood, decreased immunity, delayed wound healing, diarrhea, or hair loss. Maybe I was just zinc deficient when I was younger and lost all my hair?? If only I’d known then what I know now about taking care of my health!
In all seriousness, if I had started my journey to optimal health a decade or two earlier, the health problems I could have avoided are much more significant than hair loss! Luckily, Carla says she loves me just as I am, bald head and all. But did you know that nearly everyone has some hair loss as they age? The rate at which our hair grows also slows as we get older. Because hair loss is so common for both men and women as we age, this is something Carla is working to stay on top of by keeping an eye on her zinc levels.
Five benefits of the right amount of zinc
In addition to avoiding hair loss, there are many benefits of having the right amount of zinc. Here are five of our favorites.
Benefit #1: Zinc helps make healthy hair and skin
Did you know that zinc is strongly connected to the health of not only your hair, but also your skin? Keratin is a protein that makes up the hair shaft and is also in your skin and nails. Your body needs zinc in order to produce keratin; even a slight deficiency may result in hair loss, hair dryness, and skin damage.
Six percent of your total body’s zinc is actually in your skin, so it makes sense why having the right amount of it is crucial. Zinc also helps repair skin. I find it fascinating that when you cut yourself, the amount of zinc in the skin actually increases as enzymes and proteins ramp up to protect against infection, control inflammation, and produce new cells. The ancient Greeks must have known this, because based on ancient Greek medical texts, zinc oxide was used in ointments to treat wounds clear back then.
Zinc is required for the activity of over 300 enzymes in the body. The result is collagen synthesis and DNA repair, which can keep skin looking younger and healthier. Zinc oxide is still a very popular over-the-counter skin treatment. It’s used to treat many inflamed skin conditions such as burns, eczema, and diaper rash. It works because the zinc oxide helps to form a protective barrier on the skin’s surface and repels moisture, which allows the skin to heal.
It’s effective at treating acne and rosacea for this same reason. Zinc is actually one of the most widely researched forms of acne treatment, and studies find that both oral and topical forms are effective at treating both mild and severe acne.
Additionally, zinc helps with scaring, because it enables enzymes to break down damaged collagen tissue so that new, healthy tissue can form. It’s also effective at preventing sunburn, as it reflects and scatters ultraviolet rays so they cannot penetrate the skin.
Benefit #2: Zinc is critical for intestinal health
By now you likely know how important gut health is to us here at More Than Healthy. We even wrote a book about it! I’ve had a leaky gut, and Carla and I firmly believe it to be the underlying cause of my many health issues. In fact, science confirms that most diseases and illnesses start and end in the gut.
The intestinal lining is critical to your health. It acts as a protective barrier to infection and needs to be permeable to absorb the nutrients from our food. There are two distinct ways that zinc works to help this process.
First, studies show that zinc is an essential element for cell turnover and repair, which affects gut health. Studies also show that it can help modulate the tight junctions in the small intestine so food particles can’t pass through the intestinal wall, only nutrients can.
Additional studies confirmed that zinc supplementation helped strengthen the gut lining of patients with Crohn’s disease. A strong and healthy gut wall is absolutely crucial to gut health.
Zinc also plays a role in the production of digestive enzymes, which are the compounds in our gut that break down our food. By breaking down the food better, the nutrients we really need from that food can pass through the gut lining and get where they need to be. So even a slight zinc deficiency can impair your ability to digest and absorb enough nutrients.
This is a simplified description of a very complicated process that goes on in your body all throughout the day. But it all boils down to knowing that the health of your gut affects all of you! And getting the right amount of zinc is critical for a healthy gut.
Benefit #3: Zinc supports a healthy immune system
This is probably where zinc has received the most attention, and why you might be familiar with zinc. Because zinc boosts the immune system, it has a reputation as a cold remedy. In the 1990s, zinc lozenges became almost as popular as chicken soup as a remedy for the common cold.
Studies confirm that if taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, zinc shortens the duration and severity of the common cold in otherwise healthy people. It’s believed that zinc prevents cold viruses from spreading by reducing inflammation.
In fact, a meta-analysis of seven randomized trials reported that zinc supplementation (in the form of lozenges) reduced the length of the common cold by 33%. I think that’s pretty significant. If the common cold usually lasts 10-14 days, then you could cut that down as much as 4-5 days.
Zinc has gotten a lot of attention in recent years because of Covid-19. Many doctors talked about the importance of proper zinc levels to help fight this terrible virus. In fact, when Carla and I got Covid, our functional doctor had us increase our zinc and vitamin D. She told us we needed to boost our immune system to fight it. Even if we were slightly deficient, it would lead to a weakened immune response. We feel that taking zinc contributed to our having mild symptoms.
There is an abundance of evidence that zinc demonstrates antiviral activity, another reason it’s been used for so long to fight the common cold. This also explains why it would be effective at treating Covid-19. Researchers remain unsure if zinc is antiviral because it improves immune cell function, thus countering viral infections, or by reducing the ability of viruses to multiply. The antiviral mechanisms of zinc are still being studied.
Benefit #4: Zinc is essential for proper brain and cognitive function
By now you likely know that here at More Than Healthy, we are interested in anything that protects and promotes the brain. Zinc is an important element of brain health.
The highest zinc levels are found in the hippocampus, which is the center of all learning and memory in the brain. In fact, zinc helps to create new neurons in the hippocampus. This process is critical to our ability to remember. Memories are actually developed in the hippocampus. Later, these memories are transferred to long-term memory storage as we sleep.
Low levels of zinc can stunt this process. This makes it hard for the hippocampus to create and properly transfer memories, resulting in short-term and long-term memory loss. Studies show that zinc supplementation enhances short- and long-term recognition memory and can help hold off the onset of dementia.
Zinc and brain fog
Brain fog was one of the most worrisome side effects of my health battles. And I wasn’t the only one worried…Carla, my kids, and my employees were noticing it as well. We were all concerned that perhaps I was getting early-onset dementia.
Brain fog is an inability to focus or think clearly. To me, it felt like my brain was “fuzzy” and I didn’t feel like my normal sharp, focused self. In addition to helping form new memories, zinc assists with communication among brain cells. When brain cells can’t communicate properly with each other, this leads to brain fog.
New research is connecting brain fog to inflammation. When I was able to rid my body of the chronic inflammation I was battling, my brain fog went away. What a relief to feel like “me” again! Because zinc helps the body fight off and prevent inflammation, it can help alleviate brain fog.
Zinc and neurodegenerative disorders
Zinc is scientifically proven to be closely linked to neurodegenerative disorders. Studies indicate that zinc deficiency is surprisingly common in people with neurodegenerative diseases. This is a type of disease where the cells of the central nervous system stop working or die. These disorders typically worsen over time and have no cure. Examples include Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.
Carla’s dad, one of my personal heroes, valiantly fought Parkinson’s disease for years. It was hard to watch as this disease ravaged his body and ultimately took his life. I hope that one day we find cures for these terrible diseases. Until then, it’s important that we do all we can to prevent neurodegenerative diseases. If getting adequate zinc can help me do that, I’m going to make sure I always get the right amount of zinc.
Zinc and “happy hormones”
One more important brain benefit of zinc has to do with its role in the production of important neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin helps keep you content, confident, and calm. Dopamine is that reward chemical that boosts drive, focus, and concentration.
Studies show that low levels of zinc were strongly correlated with an increased risk of depression. So many people struggle with mental health. Almost 10% of Americans suffer from major depressive disorder. I think this aspect of brain health is every bit as important as our ability to remember and focus.
Benefit #5: Zinc is necessary for thyroid health
The last benefit doesn’t affect many people, but since Carla has so many clients who struggle with thyroid issues, we wanted to address the role zinc plays in thyroid health.
Like other trace minerals we’ve discussed in previous posts, zinc is required for thyroid hormone production and for healthy levels of T3 and T4, crucial thyroid hormones. It’s also a required element in TSH, thyroid-stimulating hormone. A deficiency of these minerals can result in hypothyroidism, which is when your thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone.
The reverse is also true. Since thyroid hormones are essential for zinc absorption, hypothyroidism can result in zinc deficiency. If you have this condition, you’ll have even more symptoms than those we discussed earlier; symptoms like tiredness, sensitivity to cold, constipation, dry skin, weight gain, puffy face, hoarse voice, muscle weakness, and a whole lot more.
This condition requires a doctor’s help to get your hormones into balance. If you have thyroid issues, be sure to work with your doctor. Making sure you’re getting enough zinc will help.
Bonus benefit of zinc: Avoid age-related diseases
An additional important benefit of the right amount of zinc is that it helps keep us healthy as we age. Zinc can significantly reduce the risk of some age-related diseases, things like pneumonia, infection, and age-related macular degeneration.
Zinc protects from infection by boosting the activity of T-cells and natural killer cells. In fact, older adults who supplemented with zinc experienced infection nearly 66% less than other older adults.
Studies show that older adults who are vaccinated for influenza and supplemented with zinc experience reduced risk of pneumonia. And, a large study of over 4,200 people showed that taking antioxidant supplements plus zinc had a significantly reduced risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and vision loss.
How to get more zinc from your food
Now that we’ve covered some of the benefits of the right amount of zinc, let’s talk about how to best get zinc from foods. For reference, the daily recommended amount for adults is 11 mg per day. For those on a plant-based diet, that amount should be increased to 30 mg. Here are some of the foods that have the highest amounts of zinc in them:
|Food||Milligrams of zinc per 100 g||Percentage of daily value|
|Shellfish (especially oysters)||78.6 mg||524% of DV|
|Wheat germ||16.7 mg||111% of DV|
|Red meat (beef & lamb)||12.3 mg||82% of DV|
|Pumpkin & sesame seeds||10.2 mg||68% of DV|
|Cashews||5.6 mg||37% of DV|
|Poultry||5 mg||33% of DV|
|Dark chocolate||3.3 mg||22% of DV|
|Roasted peanuts||3.3 mg||22% of DV|
|Mushrooms and spinach||.8 mg||5% of DV|
Pretty excited to see that dark chocolate made the list! There are a lot of foods that can give you 5-10% DV of zinc if you can tolerate them, including milk, cheese, eggs, and whole grains.
There are also lots of fruits and vegetables in this category too. Fruits that provide 2-12% of the daily value per cup include:
Vegetables that provide zinc include nutritious and low-calorie options like mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, kale, garlic, beans, and potatoes (white, red, and sweet).
Too much zinc
Like other minerals we’ve discussed in previous posts, there’s a fine balance between enough zinc and too much zinc. There are numerous issues that can be caused by too much build-up of zinc. That’s why we’re so cautious about supplementing with any mineral without consulting your doctor, and we recommend getting your nutrients from your food as much as possible.
Zinc and hair analysis
If you don’t know if you’re deficient in zinc, then a great way to find out is with hair analysis testing, an amazingly informative service now offered at More Than Healthy. With just a few strands of your hair, you receive a full report that looks at toxins, nutrients, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, electromagnetic frequency exposure, chemicals, radiation, parasites, and immune factors, as well as which foods you should avoid. Go to our website to schedule a local hair analysis or order it online to be mailed to you today.
With this simple, quick, and painless technology, we can see if what we’re doing for our health is working. In 90 days, I will do a follow-up hair analysis. The report will tell me if I’m getting the right amount of zinc. It will also tell me exactly what I need to work on for the next quarter. Hair analysis makes achieving optimal health so much easier!
Are you getting the right amount of zinc?
Hopefully, you’ve learned something valuable about the amazing health benefits of getting the right amount of zinc every day. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out! We try to answer any and all questions on our social media pages (@morethanhealthyliving). You can also private message us.
We’d love to become your health coaches as you work to become “more than healthy” and achieve optimal health.
See you next week!