What Is Zinc? - Benefits, Foods & Deficiency Symptoms

Instructor: John Koshuta
Zinc is a mineral that, while only needed in trace amounts, plays a vital role in human health. Learn about the benefits of consumption and drawbacks of deficiency while taking steps to ensure proper zinc intake.

Benefits of Zinc

Zinc has a significant influence on the body's immune system. Have you ever known someone who seems to never be sick a day in his life? Maybe his regular intake of zinc has something to do with his great health. Those with adequate levels of zinc will experience illnesses less frequently and will recover quicker when compared to those with lower levels.

Zinc has many other roles in the human body. It contributes to wound healing as well as normal growth and development during childhood. Essential bodily functions like cellular metabolic function, cell division, protein synthesis, and DNA synthesis also depend on adequate zinc. Imagine the delight of walking through the door and smelling a home-cooked meal and then the satisfaction of eating that meal. What does this have to do with zinc, you might wonder? Zinc is even essential for normal taste and smell!

Foods Containing Zinc

The foods highest in zinc are animal-based foods such as beef, pork, and seafood. Zinc is also present in vegetarian options such as beans, oatmeal, and almonds.

Below is a list of common foods and their zinc content in milligrams per serving:

  • Oysters - 74mg
  • Beef Chuck Roast - 7mg
  • Pork Chop - 2.9mg
  • Baked Beans - 2.9mg
  • Yogurt - 1.7mg
  • Oatmeal - 1.1mg
  • Almonds - 0.9mg

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for zinc varies by age. Infants and children up to age 3 need 2-3 milligrams of zinc per day on average. Children 4-8 years old need approximately 5 milligrams per day, and adolescents and adults need an average of 8-9 milligrams per day. Although zinc should be consumed consistently, it is not needed on a daily basis.

Zinc Supplements

Many forms of zinc supplements are available, including zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, and zinc acetate. The amount of zinc as a percentage varies by form. In addition, the rate of absorption, or how quickly zinc exits the digestive system and enters body tissues, also varies by form.

Excessive zinc intake can lead to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in the short term. Long-term excessive intake of zinc can lead to reduced levels of other minerals, such as copper and iron, and may lead to decreased high density lipoprotein (HDL), which is also known as 'good cholesterol'. Decreased HDL is a biomarker for heart disease.

Zinc supplements can also interfere with medications, such as antibiotics and diuretics. Those deficient in zinc should consult with their physician prior to beginning a zinc supplement regimen.

Zinc Deficiency Symptoms

It is estimated that 25% of the world's population is zinc deficient. Those at greatest risk for zinc deficiencies include alcoholics, vegetarians, and pregnant women. A zinc deficiency is most often characterized by mild symptoms such as loss of appetite and impaired immune function. More severe cases of zinc deficiency will cause hair loss, skin lesions, and impotence.

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