Most of us associate zinc with immune function—perhaps you have zinc lozenges on hand for sore throats during a cold. You may not realize that the benefits of this mineral extend far beyond immune boosting. Zinc also takes part in wound healing, maintenance of eye health, hormone production and proper digestion. It also acts as an antioxidant to fight off free radical damage within the cells.
When you are lacking in this mineral, you may feel very fatigued, run-down, susceptible to more illnesses or have trouble concentrating. Cuts or scrapes may also take longer to heal. You may experience digestive upset. In the long-run, a zinc deficiency can also contribute to infertility, leaky gut syndrome or chronic fatigue syndrome.
Zinc and Digestion
Ever experience heart-burn after eating? If you are low on certain minerals, it's likely that you don't have enough stomach acid to fully digest your food. Let me explain...
Zinc, along with magnesium and chloride, are utilized by the cells in your stomach to produce hydrochloric acid (HCL). When a person is deficient in one or more of these minerals, the cells do not have what they need to make HCL, which means that food is not digested as quickly or as completely. Without adequate amounts of HCL, food is not broken down, and the pyloric valve cannot be triggered to open in order to empty the stomach contents into the small intestine for absorption. This means that your meal sits in your stomach longer than it’s supposed to. In this case, there is not enough acid to digest your meal, but there may be enough acid to create some discomfort if it makes its way back up into your esophagus. This can result in acid reflux-type symptoms when the acids splashes up as the stomaches tries to work harder to churn and break down the contents.
So contrary to what most people believe, acid reflux may not mean you are producing too much acid. It likely means that you are not producing enough! Since minerals also need HCL in order for them to be absorbed, low stomach acid production can be a vicious cycle. Often, supplemental HCL must be taken until enough minerals can be absorbed and the body can produce its own HCL.
Zinc and Reproductive Health
Zinc also plays a role in healthy reproductive function for both men and women. For instance, it is needed for a female’s body to utilize the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone. Dare I say if a woman is low on zinc, that sperm may be a good source of this nutrient? Unless her partner is depleted, of course. Since zinc is found in large amounts in sperm, studies have shown that reduced zinc in the diet also contributes to reduced sperm count [I]. If a man is low on zinc, a few oysters per day may be all he needs to bring him up to par quickly.
Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)
Men 11 mg/day
Women 8 mg/day
Upper Level Dosage (UL) 40 mg/day
Food Sources of Zinc
Animal sources: shellfish, oysters, meat and liver
Two raw oysters from the Pacific Northwest—roughly 16.6 mg
One leg of Alaska king crab—roughly 10.2 mg
One spiny lobster—roughly 11.9 mg
Plant sources: legumes, nuts and seeds
Adzuki beans—9.9 mg/cup
Pumpkin seeds—10.3 mg/cup
It is important for vegetarians to know that the body’s ability to absorb zinc is better with animal sources than plant sources. If you still choose not to eat any seafood, just make sure to soak your beans before eating so that you can get the full range of zinc and other nutrients.
If you do eat seafood, oysters are the go-to for zinc. I might be biased, but it sure doesn't hurt to get them fresh from the beautiful west coast! Have you ever tried them? This recipe just might wow your tastebuds!
[I] El-Tawil, AM. "Zinc deficiency in men with Crohn's disease may contribute to poor sperm function and male infertility." Andrologia, 2003; Dec 35(6):337-41. Web. May. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15018135>.