Zinc is one of the essential components of the six enzyme classes present in the body. The mineral helps transmit messages from one cell to the other.

Zinc deficiency depresses growth, causes appetite loss, skin lesions, and diarrhea impairs testicular development, reduces immune and cognitive functions. It can lead to dwarfism, delayed puberty, impaired wound healing, and increased susceptibility to infectious disease.

An adult human contains 2 to 3 grams of Zinc. Off this, 0.1% is said to be replenished daily. Replenishment rate determines dietary recommendations for healthy individuals. Zinc deficiency amongst people across the world is estimated to be equal to or more than 25%.

Zinc deficiency can occur in diets low in bioavailable zinc food, like red meat and unrefined cereals rich in phytate and dietary fibers. Major manifestations of zinc deficiency include stunted growth and development and increased pregnancy complications (Gibson, 1994).

On the other hand, a high intake of Zinc is also known to lead to copper deficiency. In US diets, more than half of Zinc comes from animal food. Vegetarian diets – legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, contain adequate quantities of Zinc. The bioavailability of this mineral is restricted due to the phytic acid present in these foods.

High levels of calcium can also reduce the bioavailability of Zinc. Zinc is a non-toxic element. Excessive supplementation can lead to copper deficiency (Sandstead, 1995). The best sources for Zinc are red meats, liver, shellfish, nuts, whole grains, and legumes.

There is strong evidence to support the fact that Zinc, a key constituent of over 300 proteins, may be critical to defense against the initiation and progression of cancer (Ho, 2004).

Additional reading:

Nutrition Facts – a guide to good health

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