Zinc is an essential trace element that is needed for the development and growth of all organisms. Here we’ll look at the vital role that zinc plays in immune health, digestive health, cardiovascular health, mental health, fertility and skin health.
Zinc Deficiency Signs and Symptoms Include:
Impaired immune function with frequent infections
- Acne and poor skin health
- Poor wound healing
- Stretch marks
- Anorexia nervosa
- Loss of sense of taste or smell or loss of appetite
- Delayed sexual maturation and infertility
- Poor growth in children
- Hair loss
- White spots on fingernails
- Mental health problems
- Diarrhoea (1).
Zinc and the Immune System
Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 cost-effective, globally available, and safe treatments, with minimal side effects are extremely warranted in the prevention and treatment of the disease. Step forward zinc which meets all of these criteria (2).
Zinc helps preserve tissue barriers thus preventing pathogen entry. Zinc has been proven to improve innate and adaptive immunity in the course of any infection, be it by viruses or bacteria (Rahman). It is also an important antioxidant with direct antiviral properties. Nigella sativa, also known as black seed, is considered as a possible agent against SARSCoV-2 infection particularly if combined with zinc supplementation (3).
Supplementing with zinc may be beneficial for most of the population, especially those with suboptimal zinc status (4).
Zinc and Inflammation
A common factor in those at high risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 is low-grade inflammation, which is seen in metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart failure. Deficiencies in zinc, selenium and vitamin D may contribute to inflammation and other complications of the disease. It’s suggested that early supplementation with these nutrients may reduce the escalation of COVID-19 in high risk groups (5).
Zinc and Digestive Health
Zinc has a protective effect on the digestive system. It reduces the duration, severity, and risk of diarrhoeal disease by improving the regeneration of intestinal epithelium, improving the absorption of water and electrolytes, increasing the levels of brush border enzymes, and, possibly, by enhancing the immune response allowing better clearance of pathogens (1).
Zinc, Insulin Resistance and Cardiovascular Disease
Low-dose (less than 25mg per day), long-duration zinc supplementation can reduce the risk factors for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease including improving insulin resistance, triglycerides, cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Interestingly it seems to be more effective to take the low dose zinc for a long duration than it is to take a high dose for a short duration (6).
Zinc and Brain Health
The overall effect of zinc in the progression and development of Alzheimer's disease is still not completely understood. Some research shows that zinc supplementation delays memory deficits as well as improving other markers of Alzheimer’s disease (7).
Zinc plays a significant role in brain development. Lack of zinc is associated with inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms among children and adolescents (8).
Low dietary zinc intake is associated with mood disorders, including depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances (9). Supplementation with zinc both reduces the risk of depression and significantly alleviates depressive symptoms (10).
Zinc and Fertility
In up to 50% of cases, infertility issues stem solely from the male. According to some data, the quality of human semen has deteriorated by 50%-60% over the last 40 years. A high-fat diet and obesity affect the structure of sperm and the development of offspring and their health later in life.
Short term supplementation with micronutrients, including zinc, improves sperm quality and motility, helps regulate inflammation and restores fertility in sub-fertile males. Other recommended nutrients for male fertility include selenium, omega-3 fats, vitamins C and E and folic acid (11,12,13).
Zinc is also important for female fertility. Oxidative stress is associated with decreased female fertility and adversely affects prenatal development. Zinc, being an important antioxidant, can help reduce oxidative stress in the placenta and improve prenatal development (14). Low zinc status is associated with women taking longer to get pregnant (15).
Zinc and Skin Health
People with acne tend to have lower serum levels of zinc compared with those who don’t. Supplementing with zinc leads to significant improvements to the skin with less inflammation and fewer spots (16).
It seems that most people could benefit from supplementing with zinc at least some of the time, especially at the moment when our immune systems are so vital for our health and nothing can be taken for granted.