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Zinc is a mineral involved with crucial bodily functions ranging from boosting the immune system to staving off depression. And it’s easy to meet your needs through common foods.
“Zinc is a trace mineral, which means we only need a small amount of it, but it’s essential. For almost 100 enzymes to do what they need to do, zinc is needed,” says Scott Kaiser, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician and geriatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.
Here are the benefits of zinc and how to get enough of it in your diet.
1. Zinc aids in growth and development.
“Zinc is needed for the creation of DNA and the growth of cells, building proteins, healing damaged tissue, and supporting a healthy immune system function,” says Kaiser. Zinc is important for infants, children, and adolescents since it supports healthy growth and development.
2. Zinc prevents age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Zinc may help prevent vision loss that is associated with the eye disease AMD as well as slow down the progression of existing AMD. According to a study by the National Eye Institute, daily supplements of 80 mg of zinc combined with copper and antioxidants reduced patients’ chances of developing AMD by 25 percent compared to a placebo.
3. Zinc may improve mood.
Zinc deficiency has been linked to mental health conditions such as depression. Therefore, zinc supplements are sometimes included in depression treatment. Experts think that zinc’s presence in the brain interacts with key receptors that help drive the production of serotonin, a chemical sometimes referred to as the “happy chemical” for the role it plays in our mood.
4. Zinc can reduce the length and severity of common colds.
“If you take zinc soon after the onset of cold symptoms, you can significantly reduce the duration and the severity of the symptoms,” says Kaiser. A 2017 study published in The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine showed that those who took zinc lozenges — which has a syrup consistency — at the onset of symptoms were sick for two-thirds of the time as a control group.
5. Zinc aids memory and attention.
Zinc plays a dominant role in neurological health and brain cell regeneration, which may help explain why a zinc deficiency is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. “If you’re older and you’re trying to keep your memory and keep your brain healthy, you want to be able to develop new and healthy brain cells,” says Kaiser.
How you can get more zinc
The National Institute of Health recommends that adult women get 8 mg of zinc daily, and adult men get 11 mg daily.
Foods that contain high amounts of zinc are:
- Oysters: 1 ounce contains 11 mg of zinc (roughly 115% of your DV)
- Red meat: 4 ounces of sirloin steak contains 4 mg of zinc (42% of your DV)
- Lobster: 1 small steamed lobster contains 4 mg of zinc (42% of your DV)
- Crab: 1 king crab leg contains 4.5 mg of zinc (47% of your DV)
- Fortified breakfast cereal: 1 cup of Total contains 20 mg of zinc (210% of your DV)
- Seeds: ½ ounce of dry chia seeds contains 1.3 mg of zinc (14% of your DV)
Since many rich sources of zinc are found in meat and animal products, vegetarians and vegans are more susceptible to being zinc deficient.
Moreover, “there are components in the plants that make it so that the zinc is not as bioavailable, meaning our bodies can’t absorb it and use it as much, so vegetarians often need to get twice the daily recommended amount,” says Kaiser.
On the flip side, it is possible to overdose on zinc. Symptoms of too much zinc include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches. That’s why Kaiser recommends getting your daily dose of zinc from foods as opposed to supplements because it’s easier to overdose on zinc with supplements.
Zinc is an essential mineral that improves mood, reduces the severity of colds, and assists in memory and attention.
If you think that you might be suffering from too much or too little zinc, speak to your doctor so you can determine how to balance your diet accordingly.
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