Posted on by Paula Gallagher
Zinc is a fundamental mineral that is essential to human health and it plays a vital role in the development of hormones and immune molecules. It is as an “essential trace mineral” because your body only needs a small amount and cannot make it on its own, so it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough of the mineral in your diet. However, It is also estimated that approximately 25% of people are deficient in zinc because of poor diet. It’s recommended that adult men get 11 mg of zinc on a daily basis, while women get 8 mg.
Some of the richest sources of zinc are meat and animal products, such as oysters, beef, crab, pork, lamb, lobster, dark meat chicken, yogurt and cheese. If you eat foods such as these on a regular basis, it’s likely that you’re getting enough dietary zinc. However, certain groups are still at risk of zinc deficiency, including pregnant and lactating women, alcoholics, and those with sickle cell disease and gastrointestinal diseases.
Vegans and vegetarians can also have a harder time getting zinc through their diet than people who eat meat. Plant-based sources of zinc – such as pumpkin seeds, cashews, oatmeal, almonds and kidney beans – contain phytic acids that bind with minerals like zinc to create phytates that block the nutrient’s absorption.
If you’re concerned about how much zinc you’re getting, your health care practitioner can help you ensure you’re getting enough through a number of strategies, including zinc supplements.
Reasons to Consider Taking Zinc
1. Support Immune Health
Zinc is critical for balancing the immune system. Zinc increases the action of the human cytokine interferon-alpha, a protein that inhibits viral replication. This reduces immunological stress and improves immune health. Zinc is also a component of specific enzymes in the body, including superoxide dismutatse enzymes (SODs). SOD is a powerful intracellular antioxidant that protects against viral infection.
2. Reduce Inflammation
Zinc reduces inflammatory conditions in the body. When the immune system recognizes a pathogen, it sets off a series of molecules to create a process that activates the innate immune response. This process involves the nuclear factor-kappa beta (NF-kB) pathway. Healthy immunity depends upon sensitive NF-kB activity, but we must reduce the overstimulation of NF-kB, or we risk chronic inflammation. Zinc plays an important role, as it binds to a protein within the NF-kB pathway that halts its activity. This is a programmed shutdown of the NF-kB pathway that reduces the effects of too much inflammatory activity within the cells. Without adequate zinc, the NF-kB pathway gets overstimulated and creates chronic inflammatory conditions that have been linked to degenerative disease processes.
3. Lower Cancer Risk
Zinc helps reduce cancer cell growth. Because of its effect on NF-kB, it has been shown to decrease cancer cell growth patterns. Research shows that zinc is particularly important in prostate and breast cancers. One study showed that individuals with the BRCA1 gene (strongly associated with breast cancer development) who had the highest levels of zinc had the lowest risk of cancer development. The study also showed that those with the lowest zinc levels had a significantly elevated risk of developing breast cancer.
4. Improve Hormone Balance
Zinc is the mineral that aids in the production and utilization of progesterone. Some research suggests that women with breast cancer have elevated boron, copper and calcium levels and lower levels of zinc. Researchers suggest that boron and copper appear to make the body more sensitive to the stimulatory effects of estrogen and less responsive to the quieting effects of progesterone. Zinc is the mineral that aids in the production and utilization of progesterone, so this pattern of mineralization makes women less progesterone-responsive and more estrogen-sensitive. Raising zinc levels and lowering boron, copper and calcium levels can bring these women into mineral balance and help in the creation of hormonal balance.
The primary gene protecting men from prostate cancer and women from breast cancer is the TP53 gene. This is thought to be the guardian of the human genome. When this gene becomes mutated, it allows for the development of cancer. The gene requires zinc, and zinc deficiencies are shown to cause mutated versions of the TP53 gene to form. This dramatically raises the risk of breast and prostate cancer cell development.
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