Monday, February 18, 2008

Understanding Zinc

Zinc is one of the essential nutrients that the body needs in order to function properly. Found mostly in red meats and other high protein foods, zinc is required in small amounts for the body to not only carry out vital chemical reactions, but also to promote a healthy immune system.

-Zinc in the Diet-

As a dietary supplement, the benefits of zinc are very closely tied to the body's requirement and use of vitamin A. For example, both zinc and vitamin A are useful to promote good eyesight, particularly night vision. Also, zinc and vitamin A are required by red blood cells in order for the body to heal itself from wounds or infections. Scientists and medical professionals estimate that there are no fewer than 3,000 proteins in the body that rely on zinc to carry out their normal functions. Zinc works in the body by activating a type of protein called enzymes. When the human body has adequate amounts of zinc, certain types of the body's cells will secrete a small amount of a zinc ion that works as a signal to stimulate a specific biological process.

Oysters are considered one of the best sources of zinc. However, for people with allergies to shellfish this is impractical. Other foods that promote good zinc absorption include:

Lean beef
Fortified breakfast cereal
Chicken (dark meat)
Nuts and legumes

-Zinc Deficiency-

If the body is deficient in zinc any of the following symptoms may occur:

Hair loss
Diminished eyesight
Poor memory
Organ malfunction (particularly the liver)
Poor appetite
Bleeding disorders
Congenital defects (caused by pregnant women who are zinc deficient)

-Who Needs Zinc?-

Preventing zinc deficiency is easy done by ensuring that the diet is rich in foods that are known to have adequate levels of zinc. Other risk factors for developing zinc deficiency include alcoholism (which impairs the liver) and conditions like Chron's disease, Cystic Fibrosis or Colitis which may lead to frequent bouts of diarrhea. The recommended daily intake of zinc for adults is actually quite small. Males and females respectively only need 11mg and 8mg per day.

-Zinc and Colds-

There is some anecdotal evidence suggesting that zinc can help the body fend off the common cold. However, since colds are caused by a virus (specifically a rhinovirus), the best course of treatment for a cold is to try to alleviate the symptoms and just wait for it to run its course. Products such as Cold-Eeze lozenges, may help some people, particularly those who are harder hit by the cold due to being immunocompromised and already zinc deficient; however, such products cannot truly be relied upon as a means to speed up the healing process from a cold.

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