Zinc Supplements: Uses, Side Effects & Benefits
There are many different types of zinc supplements so which one should you choose? What are the benefits of zinc supplements and are there any side effects of taking zinc supplements?
Zinc is an important mineral that is found in every single cell of the body. The red and white blood cells, our bones, retina, kidneys, pancreas and liver all store zinc. The tenth most common element in the human body, zinc is vital for the functioning of more than 300 hormones and countless enzyme systems in the body. Zinc is also vital for cells to divide and replicate during the production of new tissues. Most of us assume that we have sufficient zinc from our diet, however there is growing amount of evidence that approximately 20% of the world’s population is deficient in zinc, which equates to one in five of us. This deficiency is irrespective of where you live.
What are the health benefits of zinc?
Whilst zinc supplements are best known for their role in fighting colds and flu, zinc has a wide range of effects on human health. I am going to highlight only some of the important roles of zinc within our bodies, but the list is extensive.
Zinc plays a crucial role in supporting optimal immune system function. White blood cells which help to fight off infection depend upon zinc for their development and activation. A deficiency of zinc can result in diminished amounts of white blood cells and reduced ability to fight infection and heal wounds. This is precisely why zinc supplements are often recommended for fighting colds and flu.
Zinc is an important component of one of the most powerful antioxidants produced with the body known as Copper/Zinc Superoxide Dismutase. This antioxidant helps to neutralise free radicals that can wreak havoc with our body’s systems and thus maintaining healthy levels of zinc is especially important to increasing our longevity.
A deficiency of zinc is associated with impaired brain function. It has been suggested that zinc supplementation may be of benefit for those suffering from Alzheimer’s. More studies need to be carried out to evaluate zinc’s role in this frightening brain disease.
Adequate zinc levels are absolutely important for fertility in both men and women. In males, the prostate is the organ with the richest zinc supply while in females it is the uterus. Developmentally, the uterus and prostate come from the same embryonic origin and require zinc for their function. In women zinc deficiencies can lead to hormonal imbalances, irregular menstruation, lack of egg maturation or release from the ovaries. In men, a deficiency of zinc can lead to prostate enlargement, low sperm count, poor sperm motility and quality.
Zinc is necessary for the repair of our genetic material, for helping skin to heal, for growth and for over 300 enzyme systems, which control countless processes in the body including taste, smell and metabolism. Zinc deficiencies can also lead to hair loss, skin lesions, diarrhoea and impaired vision. We cannot underestimate the many benefits of having adequate zinc in our bodies.
What are the best sources of zinc?
Good sources of zinc include pumpkin seeds, turkey, oysters, eggs and whole grain foods. These will certainly help to prevent our bodies from reaching sub-optimal levels of this important mineral, but zinc is very hard to absorb into the bloodstream. Binders in food and low stomach acid production with age are two of the major contributory factors. The likelihood that you are deficient in zinc is high particularly if you are of advancing age, a diabetic, consume alcohol regularly, are a vegetarian or are infected with H. pylori (affects some 50% of the population) which reduces stomach acid levels required to absorb zinc. Since the majority of zinc is stored in cells and organs, blood tests of zinc are generally not accurate. A low zinc blood level indicates a deficiency but an adequate level is not a reliable measure of sufficiency.
What is the best zinc supplement?
Zinc supplements come in many forms including citrates, gluconates and picolinates. All have varying absorption rates but at best can achieve roughly 25% absorption from each dose. Research has shown that higher dosing of zinc can produce significant benefits. However, long term supplementation of zinc at doses above 50mg can interfere with copper availability leading to copper deficiency. A deficiency in copper can lead to anaemia and the inability of the body to react to glucose in blood.
I tend to recommend Zinc Complex by Terranova, a supplement containing zinc glycinate which is a bioavailable form of zinc bonded to the amino acid glycine. Additionally, this formulation contains a blend of nutrients such as spirulina and pumpkin seeds which again provide food state zinc which means greater utilisation by the body. Very high strengths of zinc supplements can cause copper deficiencies but in this case each capsule provides 15mg approximately which is the ideal level for daily usage.
Overwhelming scientific evidence from around the world points to the critical importance of zinc to human health. With widespread deficiency, I believe it is prudent to include this micronutrient into any vitamin/mineral regimen.