Zinc is a constituent of hundreds of different enzymes and is involved in a vast number of metabolic processes in our bodies. Yet, despite its importance to good health, many Australians don’t obtain the recommended dietary intakes (RDIs) of zinc from their daily diets. Listed below are five important reasons to make sure you’re getting enough zinc:
- Antioxidant actions: Zinc helps to limit damage by free radicals in a number of ways, including protecting against the depletion of vitamin E, controlling the release of vitamin A, and contributing to the structure of some of the body’s own antioxidants. It also helps to minimise production of free radicals in the body and assists in stabilising cell membrane structures.
- Immune support: Zinc is required for proper immune system function, and being deficient in it may increase your susceptibility to infection. Older people are at particular risk of zinc deficiency, and taking zinc supplements may help to reduce their susceptibility to respiratory infections such as colds and flu. Zinc supplements may also help to reduce the frequency and duration of cold sore outbreaks.
- Skin health and wound healing: Zinc is required for protein synthesis and cell growth and therefore wound healing. It may be particularly beneficial for acne sufferers and may also aid the management of leg ulcers in people who are zinc deficient.
- Male reproductive health: Zinc is needed for testosterone production and zinc deficiency may play a role in erectile dysfunction, decreased sperm production and male infertility.
- Taste and smell: Zinc is essential for the maintenance of taste and smell and being zinc deficient may lead to impaired function of these special senses.
Where can I find Zinc?
Shellfish, eggs, beef and other red meats are rich sources of Zinc. Zinc bioavailability (the amount of zinc retained and used by the body) is relatively high in these foods because they contain proportionally low levels of compounds that inhibit zinc absorption and do contain the amino acids cysteine and methionine, which improve zinc absorption.
Nuts, legumes, whole grains, miso, tofu, brewer’s yeast, mushrooms, green beans and pumpkin seeds are good plant sources of zinc. However, the zinc in these foods is harder to absorb due to their relatively high content of phytic acid, a compound that inhibits zinc absorption. If you are taking zinc supplements, optimise their absorption by taking them at least two hours away from coffee, iron, calcium, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and high-fibre foods.