Think zinc

Kellie Collins

When you think of zinc, it’s more likely that you will think alloy wheels than a health-giving nutrient. Zinc is known as 'the protector' in manufacturing industries because it shields iron and steel from corrosion. Interestingly, its role in the human body is very similar.

Zinc is an essential trace mineral. Every cell in the body needs this nutrient and hundreds of body processes rely on it, from the immune system to the regulation of blood sugar and it even helps your body read genetic information.

Although the body does not produce zinc on its own, this mineral is readily available in drinking water and foods. Even so, many people fail to get enough of this mineral from their diet, and this is particularly true for elderly individuals and vegetarians.

There's now evidence that supplements may also be useful in providing the extra zinc needed to fight cold and flu symptoms. In addition, zinc has shown promise for speeding the healing of sore throats, promoting recovery from skin injuries, reducing tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and controlling acne and eye problems.

By boosting the immune system, zinc may also protect against fungal infections and various infectious disorders, such as conjunctivitis and pneumonia. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.

Where do you get it?
Foods considered to be the most abundant sources of this mineral include meat, poultry, dairy products, bread and other cereals, and seafood. If many of these foods are excluded, dietary intake may be low but it is thought that the body may adapt by increasing the proportion of zinc absorbed from the intestine.

How much do you need?
The recommended nutrient intake for zinc in men aged 18-50 is 9.5 mg/day and for women aged 18-50 is 7 mg/ per day.

How much zinc is in the foods that we eat?

FoodMg of Zinc
Chicken fillet0.7
Matchbox-size piece of Cheddar0.7
Slice of wholemeal bread0.7
Small portion of brown rice0.7
Small tin of tuna in brine0.7
Glass of semi-skimmed milk0.8
5oz of trout1.5
Small burger1.7
Pork chop3.5

If you get too little…
Severe zinc deficiency is rare in this country. However, even a mild deficiency in this mineral can result in illness, from increased risk for colds and flu to impaired wound healing and a diminished sense of smell.

In the case of a severe deficiency, skin ailments such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis may also develop. Blood sugar (glucose) tolerance may also be compromised, with an associated increased risk for diabetes. Low sperm counts in men are possible. In addition, over time, impaired immunity may develop.

If you get too much
Zinc in amounts greater than 200mg a day can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Taking even 100mg a day in supplement form over long periods can result in problems, including lowered levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol and diminished immune function.

Check the labels carefully before you take a supplement.

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