Daily Dose: Zinc

Know how much zinc you need to stay healthy.

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You may have heard of zinc before - perhaps as an important ingredient in cold remedies or certain sunscreens (remember those fun colored noses from the 80s?).  What many of you don't know is that zinc is an essential mineral in your diet: the recommended daily allowances for men and women are 11mg and 8mg respectively.

Zinc plays a number of crucial functions in your body:

  • Accelerates the activity of approximately 100 different body enzymes
  • Promotes immune function to fight illness
  • Supports healthy cell growth and development
  • Ensures proper sense of taste and smell

Because your body has no natural way to store zinc, it's important to make sure you're getting your daily dose. The good news is that zinc is naturally present in some foods and available as a supplement.  It doesn't take much work to make sure you're taking in enough zinc.

The majority of American gets most of their zinc from meat and poultry. But serving for serving, oysters contain more zinc than any other food (76.7 mg in 6 medium oysters!) As an added bonus, oysters also thought to be a great aphrodisiac, so share with your partner! Other great sources for zinc include beans, nuts, crab, lobster, whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products. If these foods don't appeal to you -- supplements containing zinc are easily found at any pharmacy or natural foods store. These supplements can contain several forms of zinc, including zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, and zinc acetate - all great ways to ensure your daily dose.

While most Americans don't have to worry about zinc deficiency - two groups that should take special note are pregnant women and vegetarians. Both are likely to require more daily zinc than the average individual. Vegetarians commonly eat a lot of legumes and whole grains, which contain phytates that bind zinc and inhibit its absorption in the body. This means vegetarians may require 50% more of the recommended daily allowance for zinc than non-vegetarians. Pregnant women are also at increased risk of becoming zinc insufficient partly because of high fetal requirements for zinc. Breast feeding can also deplete zinc in the body - so lactating women should aim for about 12 mg of zinc a day.

In addition to helping out with immunity, growth, and development, zinc is a great mineral for men because it appears to play an important role in maintaining prostate health. Prostate cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in American men, and most elderly men have some abnormal prostate cells, so researchers are increasingly interested in ways to protect the prostate.  Although the exact function of zinc in the prostate is unknown, what we do know about zinc is that:

  • The human prostate accumulates the highest level of zinc of any soft tissue in the body (although researchers aren't sure why)
  • Cancerous prostates seem to have less zinc than normal prostates
  • Some studies show that increased dietary zinc is associated with a decrease in the incidence of prostate cancer
  • Severe zinc deficiency can affect testosterone and could lead to impotence

Be aware that you can have too much of a good thing: excessive zinc intake can lead to nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. To avoid these side affects - try to keep your zinc intake under the upper limit of 40 mg a day, for both men and women.