What Is Zinc Good For And Should We Be Taking It?

Without health life is not life; it is only a state of langour and suffering – an image of death.
~ Buddha

What is zinc good for? Actually quite a lot. Zinc is one of the essential minerals that is required by the human body for optimum health. It is found in a wide variety of foods and is also added to a variety of foods as well.

Zinc is used in the body for various needs. It is used in various aspects of cellular metabolism and is required for making use of around 100 enzymes. Zinc also plays an important role in protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis and wound healing. Additionally, zinc is important in ensuring adequate human growth during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence.

So where do we get zinc from?
Zinc as mentioned earlier is found in many foods. The most common and abundant sources are animal foods though as you might know by now, I don’t recommend animal foods in the diet for optimum health.

Additional food sources of zinc include whole grains and legumes. Almonds, chickpeas, kidney beans, whole grain breads, baked beans, cashews and oatmeal are all good sources providing anywhere from 0.8mg to 1.7mg per serving.

Additionally, many of our commonly consumed breakfast cereals are fortified with zinc. Total cereal for example has 100% of our RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) and Cheerios cereal has 25% of our zinc RDA with Raisin Bran containing 10% RDA for zinc.

What are the RDA for zinc?
The RDA for zinc depends on the age we are and our sex as well as if we are pregnant or lactating as women.

For example, the Adequate Intake (AI) for 0 – 6 month old male and female infants is 2mg. From there is goes up. 7 months to 3 years old require 3mg per day for both males and females. 4 to 8 year old male and females require 5mg each day. 9 to 13 year old boys and girls’ RDA is 8mg.

After the age 13, the RDAs change for boys and girls. For males the RDA for 14+ years is 11mg per day. For women 14 to 18 years old require 9mg unless they are pregnant (12mg) or breast feeding (13mg). Women 19+ years require 8mg unless they are pregnant (11mg) or breast feeding (12mg).

What about zinc to combat colds?
There is some evidence that zinc is helpful especially as lozenges in combating and fighting the common cold if the zinc supplement is taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.

However, the evidence is certainly not conclusive so if you want to take zinc lozenges or other zinc supplements to help combat the common cold I would recommend you speak to your doctor about it.

What other benefits are there to zinc?
As mentioned above, zinc is required for proper immune function and is crucial in the activation and development of T lymphocytes amongst other mechanisms related to immunity.

Zinc is important in wound healing. It does this by helping to maintain the integrity of skin and mucous membranes.

In children in poverty stricken areas like India and Africa, zinc supplements have been shown to reduce both the number and the length of diarrheal infections.

One study has suggested that zinc amongst other anti-oxidant supplements can help delay the progression of age related macular degeneration. Though more research is required on this subject.

Should we be taking zinc supplements?
For most healthy adults and children I don’t believe that zinc supplements are necessary nor are they wise.

The Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (ULs) for zinc are only about 3 to 4 times the RDA for adults. For infants and children the ULs are only 1.5 to 3x the RDA, so there is a real risk of zinc toxicity. The ULs are the maximum recommended intake levels that are unlikely to cause adverse effects.

As the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) recommend, the best place to obtain vitamins and minerals is through the diet for most of us. Living authentically is also about limiting our reliance on chemicals and artificial means to obtain health.

However, there are cases when zinc supplementation might be needed. Indeed, zinc deficiency can be serious though most of us living in the first world are unlikely to need zinc supplementation.

If you feel that you might want or need to supplement with zinc pills please consult your health care provider for advice. Always seek first to make your diet as healthy as possible and live a healthy lifestyle before relying on intervention treatments.

For a more in depth understanding of the role of zinc in the body and diet, please refer to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet on zinc.

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