Trace Minerals: Zinc

Posted on by Paula Gallagher

chickpeas-spinach_aWe have come to the end of our series from A to Zinc. In this last blog, we look at zinc. 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 also estimated that approximately 25% of people are deficient in zinc because of poor diet. Here are four reasons why you should 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 dismutases (SOD). 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. A 2012 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. So how much zinc should you take? The current RDA is anywhere from 8 to 11mg for adults. However, higher doses may be needed for optimal health. Food sources include oysters, meat, eggs, nuts and seeds. If your diet does not include these foods, talk to a wellness advisor to see how much you may need. Photo from here, with thanks.