Zinc is an essential mineral that your body needs, but that it can’t produce on its own. It plays a crucial role in supporting the production of cells throughout the body, including the immune system’s antibodies.
What Is Zinc?
Zinc is a mineral. Like vitamins, your body relies on minerals to perform its many essential functions. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of zinc for adults is 8-11 mg.
Zinc occurs naturally in a range of foods, including meats (pork, beef and chicken), nuts, seeds, beans and oats. Other zinc-rich foods, like breakfast cereals, are fortified. People who don’t get enough zinc in food may benefit from zinc supplements (most often in the form of zinc pills) that usually contain either zinc picolinate or zinc sulfate.
It’s worth noting that zinc and copper compete. Taking zinc can have a negative impact on the body’s ability to absorb copper, so if you choose to take a zinc supplement, make sure it’s an appropriate dose from a brand you trust. How much zinc is too much? Experts suggest healthy adults limit their intake to 40 mg or less per day.
Zinc supports the immune system, helps wounds heal and is essential for the production of proteins and DNA that are present in every cell in the body.
Zinc deficiency is somewhat uncommon in healthy people who live in developed countries, but people with gastrointestinal problems, sickle cell disease or alcoholism have an increased risk. It’s also a little more common in vegans and vegetarians who don’t incorporate foods like nuts, beans and oats into their diet.
Zinc Immune System Benefits
Zinc health benefits are broad, but people who supplement with it usually take zinc for immune system benefits. Here’s how zinc boosts immunity:
Encourages Development of Immune Cells
Zinc is an integral part of the body’s cell development process. One of the most common signs of zinc deficiency is impaired immunity.
Zinc mediates immune cells like neutrophils (white blood cells that heal cells and fight infections) and natural killer cells (white blood cells responsible for antiviral responses). Macrophages (destroyers of harmful organisms) and T and B cells (adaptive immune response cells) are both impaired by zinc deficiency.
Manages Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress happens whenever there are more free radicals (unstable molecules that cause cell damage) in the body than it can neutralize. This imbalance negatively affects a broad range of cellular structures and can prevent the structures from performing their essential functions. Oxidative stress can lead to chronic and degenerative diseases and acute conditions. It also speeds up the aging process.
Zinc helps modulate oxidative stress. As an antioxidant, zinc gives the body the tools it needs to control free radicals effectively. It also stabilizes and strengthens cells so that they’re better able to resist the damaging effects of free radicals.
In their assessment of healthy adult volunteers, a team of researchers at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute found that zinc supplementation decreased the concentrations of oxidative stress markers in the participants’ plasma. They concluded that zinc supplementation should be considered when treating people with diseases associated with high oxidative stress levels.
Helps Produce and Protect Skin Cells
Your skin is an integral part of your body’s immune system. It’s a physical barrier that protects your body from invasive, harmful microorganisms.
Skin is the third most zinc-abundant tissue type in the body. Zinc’s ability to encourage cell proliferation plays a key role in skin healing. Beyond that, it stabilizes the membranes of skin cells and serves an essential purpose in enzyme maintenance and production. Known for its skin-specific benefits, zinc oxide, when applied topically, can alleviate skin irritations and protect against the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Besides understanding how zinc works, it’s helpful to know what zinc is good for. Zinc benefits include, but are not limited to:
Some vitamins and minerals, like zinc and vitamin C, are commonly used to improve cold symptoms. Zinc for colds is a widely researched topic. In their meta-analysis of 17 previous studies, a Canadian research team found that zinc supplementation shortened the duration of cold symptoms by 1.65 days on average.
While the improvement seems modest, it’s important to recognize the effect a cold can have on productivity. Each day of cold symptoms is a day of sub-par performance—and a day and a half of feeling well is preferable to a day and a half of feeling lousy.
Its anti-inflammatory properties make zinc good for many different skin conditions, mainly those associated with inflammation.
High zinc foods and supplements can be used to treat skin conditions from the inside out, but it can also be applied topically.
Topical zinc is commonly used in anti-dandruff shampoos to treat scalp irritation and flaking. It’s used by dermatologists to treat warts, acne, pigmentation issues, herpes, ulcers, psoriasis, eczema and keloids, among other conditions. Dermatologists use oral zinc to combat some of the same conditions—warts, acne and ulcers—as well as conditions that are less localized, including alopecia, hidradenitis suppurativa and rosacea. Zinc for acne is widely recommended for dermatological patients who prefer to avoid medicinal treatments.
In the absence of skin disorders, there are numerous benefits of zinc for skin. Its UV protective properties alone make it an excellent addition to any skincare routine, but beyond that, zinc rejuvenates the skin by stimulating cell growth. This increased replacement of skin cells can reduce the production of pore-clogging oils and improve the skin’s appearance.
The eyes contain high concentrations of zinc. Behaving as a vehicle within the body, zinc is responsible for transporting vitamin A from the liver to the retina, where it’s used to produce protective melanin. Zinc deficiency is linked to a higher risk of visual impairments, including night vision issues and clouded lenses (cataracts), as well as a greater incidence of eye infections.
In addition to preventing some eye conditions, zinc can help slow the development of others. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that worsens over time. It’s the leading cause of permanent vision loss in people over 60. In a well-known, large-scale clinical trial, researchers at the National Eye Institute found that taking a zinc supplement slowed the progression of advanced AMD by about 25% and that it slowed the loss of vision by 19%.
Zinc in Summary
There are countless benefits to adding zinc high foods or supplements to your routine. If you’re not consulting a professional or taking a professionally balanced supplement, you may need to modify your intake to decide how much zinc is too much for you and your unique body. With a reasonably high upper tolerable limit and few risks and side effects, a zinc supplement is suitable for most people.