Zinc has so many health benefits that it’s almost impossible to cover them all in one post. Zinc is important for balancing immunity, decreasing inflammation, as an antioxidant, cognitive function and so much more!
What is Zinc?
Zinc is an essential mineral found in all organs, tissues, and fluids in the body .
Zinc is required for the catalytic activity of more than 300 enzymes involved in the synthesis and metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, nucleic acids, and other micronutrients .
Zinc also plays roles in stabilizing cell and organ structures, immune function, wound healing, cell division, growth, blood clotting, thyroid function, vision, taste, and smell .
Zinc and Diet
Despite having such critical functions, it is not stored in the body and requires a regular dietary intake .
Good dietary sources of zinc include red meats, seafood, dairy products, nuts, legumes, and whole grains .
Health Benefits of Zinc
1) Boosts Immunity and Lowers Risk of Infection
Zinc is essential for the normal development and function of many immune cells .
Because of the critical role, it plays in the immune system, even a mild deficiency can impair immune function and increase the risk of bacterial, viral, and parasitic infection .
In clinical states associated with immunodeficiency (e.g., sickle cell disease, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, Down syndrome, and in the elderly), zinc supplementation can restore natural killer cell activity, lymphocyte production, and resistance to infection [15, 16, 17, 18].
Studies in HIV patients with low blood zinc levels reveal that chronic supplementation is associated with lower opportunistic infections and a reduced risk of immunological failure [19, 20]. However, supplementation must be exercised with caution as excessive zinc may worsen disease symptoms [21, 22].
People with acrodermatitis enteropathica (a genetic disorder affecting zinc absorption), experience high rates of infection. Zinc supplementation in therapeutic doses results in complete recovery .
Many studies showed that in infants and children in developing countries, zinc administration reduced the duration, severity, and incidence of acute and chronic diarrhea, acute lower respiratory tract infections, and malaria [24, 25, 26, 27, 28].
Similar beneficial effects were reported for other infectious diseases in humans including shigellosis, leprosy, tuberculosis, leishmaniasis, hepatitis C, and the common cold (by increasing Th1 cytokines) [29, 30, 31].
On the other hand, excessive levels may suppress immunity. A study in healthy young men revealed that high doses of zinc reduced several immune functions, including activation of lymphocytes and phagocytosis of neutrophils .
2) Acts as an Antioxidant
A study in the elderly showed that zinc supplementation was able to reduce fat peroxides in the blood .
Zinc also restored superoxide radical scavengers to normal levels in the sperm of men with asthenospermia (poor sperm motility) .
In addition, it protected against radiation-induced oxidative stress in mice .
Zinc supplementation has also shown efficacy in treating Wilson’s disease, a disorder in which copper accumulates in tissues .
3) Controls Inflammation
In an aged mouse model, supplementation resulted in fewer age-related increases in inflammatory markers .
4) May Prevent Transplant Rejection and Autoimmunity
One study in healthy men found that zinc was able to reduce the rate of graft rejection while protecting the body from infections resulting from a suppressed immune system .
In mouse models of multiple sclerosis and arthritis, it was able to improve disease symptoms by lowering inflammation, suppressing T-cell proliferation and increasing regulatory T-cells [54, 55, 56, 51, 57].
In mixed lymphocyte cultures, zinc-induced regulatory T-cells, which helped reduce graft rejection by decreasing inflammatory cytokines and T-cell proliferation .
5) Combats Allergy and Asthma
In response to grass pollen, an allergen that is a major cause of allergic rhinitis in many parts of the world, zinc increased regulatory T-cells and decreased proliferation in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) isolated from allergic subjects .
Low blood zinc levels are linked to more severe asthma symptoms in children .
A study showed that zinc supplementation improved symptoms (e.g., cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath) in children with asthma .
In allergen-sensitized mice, it was able to inhibit respiratory tract epithelial cell death (by inhibiting caspase-3) .
6) Enhances Wound Healing and Tissue Repair
When applied topically, zinc oxide improved the healing of excisional wounds in rats .
7) Boosts Cognition and Protects Neurons
Zinc supplementation was able to enhance cognitive recovery in zinc deficient people who experienced an ischemic stroke .
In a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, zinc supplementation reduced pathological factors associated with progression of the disease (i.e., β-amyloid and tau protein loads) and improved mitochondrial function and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels in the hippocampus .
Another study showed that maternal zinc supplementation enhanced spatial learning and memory in rat pups .
8) May Treat Psychiatric Disorders
A study in OCD patients showed that the addition of zinc to fluoxetine therapy was able to reduce symptoms (as assessed by the Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive rating scale) .
A study in schizophrenic men found that zinc in combination with risperidone improved many symptoms associated with the disorder (e.g., aggression, hallucinations, and delusions). This effect is in part attributed to its antioxidant and antidepressant properties .
9) May Prevent Autism
A study found that autistic individuals have lower levels of zinc compared to neurotypical (non-autistic) individuals. In the study, the severity of autistic symptoms (i.e., awareness, hyperactivity, receptive language, focus and attention, eye contact, tip-toeing, sound sensitivity, tactile sensitivity, and seizures) decreased after zinc and vitamin B6 treatment .
Studies found that prenatal zinc treatment prevented autistic-like behaviors (e.g., induced social deficits, repetitive behaviors, and cognitive inflexibility) in rat offspring, indicating a possible link between its deficiency and autism development [99, 100].
In a recent study, it was found to reverse brain cell changes in autism :
- “Our work is showing that even the cells that carry genetic changes associated with autism can respond to zinc.”
- “Our research has focussed on the protein Shank3, which is localized at synapses in the brain and is associated with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.”
- “Human patients with genetic changes in Shank3 show profound communication and behavioral deficits. In this study, we show that Shank3 is a key component of a zinc-sensitive signaling system that regulates how brain cells communicate.”
- “Intriguingly, autism-associated changes in the Shank3 gene impair brain cell communication,” says Dr. Montgomery. “These genetic changes in Shank3 do not alter its ability to respond to zinc”.
- “As a result, we have shown that zinc can increase brain cell communication that was previously weakened by autism-associated changes in Shank3”.
- “Disruption of how zinc is regulated in the body may not only impair how synapses work in the brain but may lead to cognitive and behavioral abnormalities seen in patients with psychiatric disorders.”
- “Together with our results, the data suggests that environmental/dietary factors such as changes in zinc levels could alter this protein’s signaling system and reduce its ability to regulate the nerve cell function in the brain,” she says.
10) Reduces Stress and Improves Mood
It also increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels, which are low in people with depression.
11) Controls Cell Death
12) May Prevent Cancer
Zinc deficiency substantially increases the risk of cancer in the mouth, esophagus, and stomach. Digestive tract tissues are more susceptible because of their high exposure to outside toxins [110, 111].
Low blood zinc levels are also associated with head, neck, lung, gall bladder, prostate, and ovarian cancers . Restoring normal levels can improve natural killer cell function, which is essential for killing tumor cells [113, 114, 115].
Zinc also exhibits antimicrobial effects against the common wound flora in rats .
14) May Treat Epilepsy and Prevent Seizures
A study in epileptic children revealed that zinc therapy significantly reduced the frequency of seizures in 31% of the treated children .
Zinc supplementation was also able to prolong the latency (a period between seizures) of febrile (fever) seizures in rats .
15) Promotes Growth
In a number of studies, zinc supplementation produced significant beneficial effects on both height and weight measures of children, especially in underweight children and children suffering from stunted growth [131, 132, 133].
An analysis of studies of growth in children revealed that a dose of 10 mg of zinc daily for 24 weeks led to a net increase of around 0.37 cm (in height) in zinc-supplemented children compared to children treated with placebo .
16) Protects the Gut
Zinc supplementation has a protective effect on the gut lining of animal models and humans in a variety of gastrointestinal diseases (e.g., inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, alcohol toxicity, and colitis) .
Zinc also protected the intestinal mucosa from alcohol-induced damage in rats and mice [138, 139]. It can prevent gut leakiness, which may reduce the risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease [140, 141, 142, 143].
A study in patients with dyspepsia (indigestion) found that inflammation in H.pylori-induced stomach cancer was negatively correlated with zinc concentration, indicating that zinc may reduce the risk of stomach cancer by suppressing stomach inflammation [144, 145].
17) Improves Sleep Quality
A study in infants revealed that zinc supplementation was able to prolong sleep duration .
18) Stimulates Appetite and May Treat Anorexia
One of the earliest signs of a zinc deficiency is a loss of appetite .
19) Boosts Skin Health
Zinc has been shown to be beneficial for a variety of skin conditions (e.g., acne, warts, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, melasma, and dandruff) .
A study in people with rosacea (a chronic inflammatory disease characterized by flushing, small blood vessels, and red bumps on the face) showed that oral zinc was able to reduce disease symptoms [167, 23].
Zinc supplementation exhibits similar efficacy in treating other inflammatory skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema, likely owing to zinc’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties [168, 169, 23].
Melasma is a skin pigmentary disorder that causes brown skin discoloration. Zinc treatment was able to reduce the severity of this disorder in affected patients with minimal side effects .
Zinc also protects against sun damage to the skin, which can cause skin aging and cancer. A study in humans found that a sunscreen containing zinc was more superior than titanium oxide in providing protection against ultraviolet (UV) irradiation [172, 173].
20) May Prevent Hair Loss
In a clinical study, topical zinc was able to improve hair growth in bald men. It was hypothesized that zinc’s antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-androgenic effects on the scalp were potentially involved in the increase of hair density [174, 175, 176, 177, 39, 178].
Another study in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) showed that zinc supplementation had beneficial effects on a number of symptoms, including alopecia (hair loss) .
Zinc treatment also reversed hair loss in patients who underwent vertical gastroplasty (stomach stapling), a surgical operation that can result in zinc deficiency .
21) May Improve Symptoms of Kidney Disease
Restoring zinc levels in chronic kidney disease patients on hemodialysis can improve overall kidney function and reduce many complications associated with the disease (e.g., heart disease, anemia, infections, and sexual dysfunction) by reducing inflammation, oxidative stress, and cholesterol, as well as by enhancing hemoglobin, sex hormones (i.e., testosterone and LH), and immune function [181, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186].
22) Protects the Liver
Zinc supplementation in animal models of alcoholic liver disease (ALD) protected the liver by blocking most mechanisms of liver injury (i.e., gut leakage, endotoxemia, oxidative stress, excess inflammatory cytokine production, and liver cell death) [187, 188, 189, 190].
In patients with non-alcoholic liver cirrhosis, supplemental zinc improved liver function and prevented excessive copper accumulation, which can damage the liver .
23) Strengthens Bones
In mouse osteoblast (bone-forming) cells, zinc treatment stimulated bone forming activity .
Another study revealed that zinc supplementation increased bone formation markers (i.e., ALP, BAPE, and BAP-M) in healthy men .
24) Prevents Heart Disease
One study found that a higher rate of cardiac failure was associated with zinc deficiency .
Other studies revealed that high doses of zinc were able to prevent and treat angina (chest pain) in patients with atherosclerosis .
Supplemental zinc was also able to protect the heart from stroke-related injuries in rats and mice .
25) Increases Insulin Sensitivity and May Prevent Diabetes and its Complications
Zinc also improves the solubility of insulin in pancreatic cells and enhances insulin binding to its receptor .
A study found that prediabetic patients were more likely to be zinc deficient .
Other studies found high percentages of zinc deficiency in type 2 diabetes patients .
26) Aids in Weight Loss
It reduced oxidative stress (as measured by MDA levels) and stabilized antioxidant enzymes (i.e., GR, Cu/Zn SOD, and catalase) in the red blood cells of rats after radioactive iodine (131I) exposure [232, 233].
Zinc treatment was also able to protect the precursor sperm cells of mice from radiation-induced cell death .
28) Reduces Body Odor
Bromhidrosis (body odor) is usually associated with an increased bacterial flora in the armpit region, mainly consisting of Staphylococcus and Corynebacterium species .
29) Improves Oral Health
Zinc-based mouthwashes were found to be effective in reducing plaque growth .
Similarly, a study in children from low-income areas found that a daily intake of 15 mg of zinc for ten weeks was associated with reduced plaque formation on the teeth .
30) Enhances Male Fertility and Reproductive Health
This is likely because of zinc’s role in stabilizing the cellular membranes and DNA (by reducing oxidative damage) of sperm cells and enhancing spermatogenesis (formation of new sperm cells) [243, 244, 245].
Low to moderate doses (12 – 120 mg/kg) of zinc intake appeared to enhance reproductive function in rats .
Zinc can also reduce oxidative damage to the testicles. In rats, zinc was able to preserve testicular function (as measured by testicular weight, sperm concentration, and testosterone levels) in response to oxidative stress induced by cigarette smoke .
31) Combats Fatigue
Low concentrations of zinc in the blood are associated with many symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome (e.g., fatigue, depression, and concentration difficulties). One study found that blood zinc levels were significantly lower in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients than in normal controls and that symptom severity was negatively correlated with blood zinc levels.
The study concluded that zinc may be effective in attenuating CFS symptoms because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties .
Gut inflammation (caused by a leaky gut) is common in people with CFS .
A study found that treating leaky gut with a mixture of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant substances including zinc in CFS patients resulted in a significant improvement of symptoms .
32) Controls Blood Clotting
Hyperzincemia (high levels of zinc in the blood) can cause blood clotting while hypozincemia (low levels of zinc in the blood) leads to prolonged blood clotting times. Both conditions cause impairments in platelet aggregation and abnormal bleeding .
One study revealed that restoring zinc levels in zinc-deficient men led to normalized platelet aggregation and blood clotting time .
33) Improves Pregnancy Outcome
A study found that Indian mothers receiving supplemental zinc had longer gestational periods (pregnancy times) and babies with healthier weights .
Another study in pregnant women (with low blood zinc levels) found that zinc supplementation (25 mg/day) during the second half of pregnancy significantly increased infant birth weights and head circumferences .
It is proposed that these beneficial effects are a result of its ability to inhibit embryonic cell death, increase growth factors (e.g., IGF, PDGF, and FGF), and reduce oxidative damage, all of which help promote healthy fetal development [260, 266, 267].
34) Beneficial for Women’s Health
Zinc deficiency is associated with hormonal imbalances that can lead to ovarian function problems, menstruation irregularities, and infertility .
These effects are likely due to zinc’s inhibition of prostaglandin metabolism in the uterus, which leads to decreased painful cramping in the lower abdomen .
In women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), insulin resistance can cause increased production of androgen hormones (e.g., testosterone and DHEA), which can lead to balding, body hair growth, irregular periods and infertility .
Women with endometriosis (a condition where the tissue inside the uterus grows outside of the uterus) exhibit low blood zinc levels .
One study reported that an intake of antioxidants (i.e., vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and zinc) was inversely correlated with the severity of endometriosis progression in women, indicating that zinc may slow the development of this disorder .
35) Alleviates Pain
In rats with sciatic nerve injury, injection of zinc chloride significantly relieved thermal hyperalgesia (heightened sensitivity to pain) in a dose-dependent manner .
Another study showed that zinc salts were able to suppress pain in mice exposed to a series of painful stimuli (e.g., heat and irritant chemicals) .
In patients with chronic liver disease, zinc reduced the frequency and severity of muscle cramp pain .
It is proposed that zinc relieves pain in part by binding to the NMDA receptor (as an antagonist), which is involved in initiating pain pathways .
36) May Reduce Opioid Addiction
Based on these results, a literature review article suggested that zinc supplementation may be beneficial in reducing the risk of addiction in humans taking opioids for chronic pain because of zinc’s pain-relieving effects and low toxicity .
37) Increases Taste Sensitivity
Zinc deficiency is associated with decreased taste acuity (sensitivity) .
This may be because gustin (or carbonic anhydrase VI), a zinc-dependent enzyme, is not as active when salivary concentrations of zinc are low .
38) May Prevent Blindness
Age-related macular degeneration, a major cause of blindness in the elderly, is believed to be caused by oxidative stress. Clinical studies have found that zinc supplementation can slow the progression of the disease, possibly by preventing oxidative damage to the retina [292, 293, 294, 295].
It has been suggested that zinc may protect against diabetic retinopathy (which can lead to blindness) by preventing retinal capillary cell death and neovascularization (growth of new blood vessels).
Night blindness is one of the earliest symptoms of vitamin A deficiency. A study found that zinc was able to enhance the effect of vitamin A in restoring the night vision of pregnant women (who had low zinc levels) .
39) Treats Hearing Disorders
One study has reported that zinc supplementation (50 mg/day) for two months was able to reduce the severity of tinnitus in 82% of patients .
In another study, it was found that the addition of zinc to oral corticosterone was associated with a greater improvement in symptoms in people with a sudden sensorineural hearing loss (sudden deafness from unknown reasons) than by corticosterone alone .
Otitis media (OM) is an infection of the middle ear. One study found zinc supplementation was able to significantly reduce the rate of otitis media in healthy children from low-income areas .
40) May Prolong Lifespan
A study found that worms (i.e. S. cerevisiae) and mice genetically manipulated to express high levels of SOD had longer lifespans .
Mutations in the SOD gene are associated with many age-related diseases (e.g., ALS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer) .
Zinc supplementation in the elderly was found to decrease inflammation, oxidative stress, and the rate of infection .
Thus, due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, zinc may promote longevity, particularly in the elderly (who are often zinc deficient) .
41) Promotes Thyroid Function
In disabled hypothyroid patients under anticonvulsant therapy (with mild to moderate zinc deficiency), zinc supplementation was able to normalize thyroid hormone levels in the blood (i.e., T3 and FT3) and restore thyroid function .
In a case study of two college females, zinc intake increased thyroid hormone levels (i.e., T3 and T4) and resting metabolic rate .
Zinc supplementation was also to reverse the damaging effects of computer monitor-emitted radiation on the thyroid hormone levels of computer workers .
42) May Alleviate Cystic Fibrosis
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that can cause breathing problems, lung infection, and an inability to gain weight. A retrospective study in cystic fibrosis patients found that zinc supplementation was able to improve lung function, energy intake, and decrease the rate of infection .
43) May Enhance Athletic Performance
A study in wrestlers found that heavy exercise can significantly deplete thyroid hormones and testosterone levels, which can lead to exhaustion. However, zinc supplementation was able to prevent this loss, indicating that intake (in physiological doses) may benefit athletic performance .
Another study in sedentary men showed similar results .
44) May Reduce Chemotherapy Side Effects
Mucositis (ulceration of mucous membranes) is a common side effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy .
Dysgeusia (distortion of taste) and dysosmia (distortion of smell) can also occur during chemotherapy .
A study found that a daily intake of 100 mg of zinc for 4 – 6 months improved dysgeusia and dysosmia symptoms in patients with carbonic anhydrase VI (gustin) deficiency .
This effect is because it is known to stimulate the production of carbonic anhydrase VI, an enzyme in the saliva that is involved in taste bud growth .
45) Reduces the Risk of Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions (e.g., obesity, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol) that can lead to an increased risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes .
A study in children with metabolic syndrome found that zinc supplementation decreased insulin resistance, oxidative stress, inflammation, blood sugar, cholesterol, and body mass index .
46) Improves Mitochondrial Function
A study in rats found that zinc intake enhanced the electron transport system and oxidative phosphorylation in the liver mitochondria, which increased energy output (ATP) in liver cells .
47) May Treat Arsenic Poisoning
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