Zinc is the second most abundant trace mineral in the body after iron. It is present in every cell and involved in the activity of over 300 enzymes, so as far as vitamins and minerals go, it’s pretty important. Added to that zinc is also an essential nutrient, in that your body cannot make or store it; you must obtain it on a continual basis from food or by taking a zinc supplement. So, what are the benefits of zinc?
Zinc and your immune system
Zinc helps to keep the immune system strong. When there is enough zinc in the body, it assists the main immune cells in doing their job. Zinc also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Both of these affect how our bodies recover from, and respond to illness.
The immune system's first line of defence is made up of our skin, mucous membranes, nasal hairs and stomach acid. If a pathogen breaches our first line of defence and enters the body, responsibility passes to our immune cells. It is their job to respond efficiently so the pathogen can be killed. If they are not functioning well, it's easier for a pathogen to take over and spread infection. Zinc supports your immune cells in mounting an effective defence against attack.
Zinc is an important anti-oxidant
One of our body's responses to infection is the good old 'smoke them out' trick. The body's core temperature rises so the pathogen can't survive in an uncomfortable environment. You experience this as a high temperature. This may not feel good but it is a necessary immune response as long as it is balanced and doesn’t last for too long.
As an anti-oxidant, zinc can modulate this response to keep inflammation under control. It also ensures that, after the pathogen is destroyed, the immune system returns to normal. In this way, zinc helps to reduce symptoms and speed recovery from illness.
Studies confirm that zinc works as a preventative against colds and flu too.
Zinc and your skin
Zinc is also important for healthy skin, hair and nails, and may be especially useful in the treatment of acne. Acne is driven by bacteria and inflammation and occurs when the skin produces too much sebum. Studies suggest that both topical and oral zinc treatments can effectively treat acne by reducing inflammation, inhibiting the growth of bacteria that cause acne and suppressing oil gland activity. People with acne tend to have lower levels of zinc and supplementing with zinc is sometimes recommended to help treat acne.
How do know if I have enough zinc? Your body has some clever ways of letting you know you may be deficient in zinc!
Symptoms of mild zinc deficiency include brittle nails, white spots on nails and ridges. Low levels of zinc can also affect your hair and skin, causing thinning hair, dry skin and acne. Zinc deficiency has also been linked to fertility problems; it may prove especially helpful for men and male reproductive health. Insufficient zinc can also be responsible for a lack of taste and smell.
Best food sources of zinc
Zinc-rich foods include shellfish, nuts and seeds (pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc), eggs, wholemeal and wholegrains, meat, dairy and certain vegetables, and some foods, such as cereals, are fortified in zinc.
Animal products, such as meat and shellfish, contain high amounts of zinc in a form your body easily absorbs. Plant sources of zinc, such as mushrooms, kale, peas and asparagus, tend to be absorbed less efficiently.
Even if your diet contains plenty of zinc rich foods, you could still be mildly deficient in zinc, thanks in no small part to modern farming methods.
A zinc supplement can help to keep levels of zinc topped up. Two of our favourite zinc supplements are Lamberts Zinc , available as zinc citrate, which is easy for your body to absorb and Solgar Chelated Zinc. For additional immune support try Lamberts Zinc Plus Lozenges and A.Vogel's Immune Support .