The A-to-Z on Zinc


By: Sammy Cusimano

The summer weather is in full effect this month, with heat index temperatures averaging over 100 degrees on a daily basis. Taking as many precautions to be prepared for the extreme temperatures is vital to staying healthy and safe this summer. The increase of fluid loss due to sweating can be very strenuous on the entire body, if the right vitamins and minerals are not replenished each day, along with proper hydration.

One of the most important nutrients that is lost through excessive perspiration is zinc. Athletes and individuals who work outdoors are most susceptible to zinc deficiency during the summer months; however, every health-minded person should supplement with zinc to ensure that the body remains nutritionally in balance. Maintaining proper levels of zinc through supplementation and diet is crucial to keeping all of the systems of the body strong and performing at their best.
Zinc is a mineral that is required by the body for overall health, thus making it an “essential trace element”. Because the body cannot store excess zinc, the daily diet must include foods and/or supplements of the mineral. Zinc deficiency is very common in the hotter months of the year, and the consequences can range from mild to very severe. A lack of sufficient zinc can cause wounds to heal more slowly, including the tissue recovery process after exercise.

Some other symptoms of zinc deficiency are decreased appetite, low energy, slowed growth in children and young adults, abnormally low insulin levels, weak immune system function and unhealthy cholesterol levels. Even athletic performance can be affected by not getting enough zinc. Healthy metabolism, aerobic capacity, muscle strength, bone density and overall endurance are all directly related to proper levels of zinc in the body.
Zinc is also directly related to the production of testosterone in the body. Many athletes and bodybuilders supplement with zinc to increase muscle performance and to build lean mass. While helping to build muscle, zinc also plays a role in reducing inflammation and strengthening the immune system. Athletes who are training hard this summer can optimize their regimens with zinc so that they can perform at their best, while also recovering at a quicker rate and keeping from getting sick.

The applications of zinc are remarkably diverse. Supplementing the mineral can actually improve memory and learning capabilities by regulating the process of how neurons communicate. On a molecular level, zinc aids in correctly synthesizing DNA within the body. In the realm of digestive and excretory systems, the nutrient helps in the treatment of diarrhea. In many third world countries where chronic diarrhea can be fatal, zinc is used to help treat entire afflicted communities to save lives each day.

The common cold can even be treated with zinc. When the symptoms of the cold first occur, taking a zinc supplement has been shown to reduce, not only the duration, but also the severity of the cold. The body needs zinc to initiate the immune system response by activating T lymphocytes (T cells), which then attack any infected cells. Zinc has even proven effective in aiding the immune system in the fight against some cancer and auto-immune diseases.

The foods that contain the highest content of zinc are some of the most sought-after delicacies around the world. The most zinc-rich food available is raw oysters. Oysters contain 14.1 milligrams of zinc for every 3 ounces. Eating 6-12 raw oysters will easily fulfill the recommended daily intake of zinc. The reputation of oysters being an aphrodisiac is largely due to the high amounts of zinc contained within them. The testosterone-boosting qualities of zinc make oysters an excellent source of the mineral for hormonal benefits.

Some other foods that are enriched with zinc are:
Lean red meat, lamb, pork and turkey
Legumes such as lentils and beans
Whole-grain cereals
Cashew nuts
Green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and asparagus)
Shellfish such as crab, lobster, shrimp and scallops
Greek yogurt
Sesame and pumpkin seeds
There are also methods of preparing foods that help to preserve their zinc content as much as possible. The technique of soaking beans, grains and seeds in water for a few hours before cooking them is an effective way to retain more available zinc with each serving.

A little goes a long way with zinc consumption. The recommended daily intake of zinc is between 11-30 mg for men and 8-20 mg for women. The higher levels of zinc intake would apply to athletes, fitness enthusiasts or any individual who loses an excessive amount of sweat throughout the day.

It is vital to take the right amount of zinc for your body. Ingesting too much zinc can cause nausea, stomach cramps, headaches and loss of appetite. The ironic quality of zinc is that in the proper amount, it provides very healthy benefits; however, in an excessive amount, the opposite effects can occur. When taken in moderation, zinc will strengthen the immune system; in excess, it will weaken the immune response. Similarly, in the appropriate amount, zinc helps to treat diarrhea, but in higher amounts, it can actually cause diarrhea. Cholesterol levels are impacted in different ways as well with zinc intake. Too much zinc can lower the levels of HDL cholesterol (the “healthy” cholesterol). However, the right amount of zinc improves cholesterol in the body.

An important consideration when taking zinc supplements is to avoid consumption with dairy products that are high in calcium. High dietary calcium intake can actually block the absorption of zinc. It is best to avoid taking zinc supplements with milk to maximize the effectiveness of the mineral. Iron supplements also can interfere with zinc absorption. It is important to structure a vitamin and supplement schedule each day whereby you can take iron and calcium at a completely different time than zinc.

The optimal time for taking zinc is before bed when no additional food for the day is going to be ingested. Sometimes zinc is sold as a supplement with magnesium. Magnesium works well with zinc, while also aiding in relaxing the muscles for a good night’s sleep.

There’s no better time of year than now to start getting the right amount of zinc for a healthy and balanced life of wellness. The difference you will feel in your body will astound you, when adequate amounts of zinc are present each day in your nutritional routine. Make zinc part of your daily life, and watch the quality of everything improve!

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