When you walk down the vitamin aisle at your local drug store, you’ll likely encounter a few supplements that make you wonder why people take them. You know the basics: vitamin C helps the immune system, calcium builds stronger bones, and fish oil promotes heart health. But what benefits do garlic, echinacea, ginkgo, or zinc have? If you’ve ever come across zinc supplements but don’t know what is the role of zinc in the body, keep reading to learn everything you need to know on the topic.
What is zinc? What functions does it perform?
If you remember your periodic table of elements, know that zinc (Zn) sits next to nickel and copper. The body doesn’t produce zinc on its own, but it requires the mineral in small quantities for certain cells to do their jobs.
Let’s look at the purpose of zinc in the body. The body uses zinc for the following functions:
- Zinc helps the body synthesize proteins
- It plays a role in the formation of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which contains essential information on how cells should reproduce
- Because of the two functions listed above, zinc is essential to the growth and development
- The mineral helps the body heal from wounds by combating inflammation and helping to build new cells
- Many cells within the immune system require zinc to function and grow. For this reason, consuming zinc can reduce the duration of a cold
What does zinc deficiency look like?
According to The Nutrition Source, published by Harvard’s school of public health, zinc deficiency most commonly occurs among people with digestive disorders, people who’ve had gastrointestinal surgery, people with chronic liver or kidney disease, pregnant women, vegetarians, and vegans.
How can you tell if you’re experiencing zinc deficiency? Especially if you fall into one of the at-risk groups mentioned above, take notice of any symptoms that could be related to the deficiency—just keep in mind that many other illnesses can cause similar symptoms.
According to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, signs of zinc deficiency may include the following:
- Delayed growth
- Appetite loss
- Degraded immune function
- Hair loss
- Delayed sexual maturation
- Loss of sense of taste
- Slow healing of wounds
- Unexpected weight loss
- Lesions in the eyes or skin
- Mental lethargy
Knowing the role of zinc in the body, how to increase zinc intake?
Now that you know the purpose of zinc in the body, what do you do if you suspect having a zinc deficiency? No matter how minor it may seem, the best thing is to talk with your doctor. They may instruct you to add more zinc-rich foods to your diet or to take zinc supplements.
To increase your zinc intake through food, add more of the following foods to your diet:
- Red meat
- White meat
- Shellfish, crab, and lobster
- Whole grains
- Dark chocolate
- Zinc-fortified cereals
If you have trouble adapting your diet, zinc supplements are an alternative way to experience the benefits of zinc. Many multivitamins include zinc, or you can take standalone zinc supplements or zinc combined with calcium, magnesium, copper, or another mineral.
How much zinc should I consume?
How much zinc is healthy to consume depends on your demographic. In general, the Mayo Clinic recommends adult women take in 8 milligrams of zinc per day, and adult men take in 11 milligrams per day.
Keep in mind that having too much zinc can have adverse effects; zinc toxicity can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, lethargy, and fatigue. Furthermore, you should not take zinc supplements if you’re on antibiotics or take arthritis medication.
Be sure to consult with your doctor to avoid any negative side effects before changing your diet or adding any supplements to your daily regimen.
Role of zinc in the body: An essential mineral
Leading a healthy life requires making conscientious decisions about what vitamins and minerals you consume, and at what amounts. Unlike other necessary elements, the body can’t produce zinc on its own, so it’s important that you stop and think about zinc and whether or not your body gets enough of the essential mineral.