Vitamins + Supplements
What You Need to Know About Zinc
What is Zinc?
Zinc is an essential trace mineral that is intricately involved in hundreds of activities inside our cells. At the moment, research estimates that 100 to 300 different enzymes require zinc to accomplish their tasks. In many cases, zinc acts as a catalytic component for those enzymes, aiding the biochemical processes that help cells function regularly. Enzymes, and even hormones, hormone receptors, and other proteins, also need zinc as a building block in their own chemical structures.
Zinc helps enzymes and other molecules carry out cellular processes like DNA synthesis, cell division, gene expression, cell death, and cell metabolism, making it vital to our normal growth and development and overall health. Not only does zinc help grow our bodies; it also helps protect it by supporting our immune cells, augmenting antioxidant activity, and facilitating healing of open wounds. In recent years, research has also found possible associations between zinc and normal learning and emotional functioning in our brains.
What are Signs of Zinc Deficiency?
Zinc’s specific roles in healthy bodies explain many of the symptoms that arise when zinc is deficient.
A major result of zinc deficiency is slowed growth. Some signs are a loss of appetite and/or weight loss. Without zinc to support DNA synthesis and cell division, there is, in some sense, a lacking ability to sustain the cellular processes that ultimately lead to a growing body. Zinc deficiency is even felt in the brain, altering central nervous system development and less-tangible traits like behavior. Overall mental slowness can result. Also related to development – a severe absence of zinc for normal sex hormone production can lead to delayed sexual maturity in both males and females, seen as delayed menstruation in females and a lack of reproductive organ development and low sperm count in males.
Impaired Immune Function
In research on children from developing countries, a strong association is found between low zinc status and increased susceptibility to pneumonia and infections that cause diarrhea. One theory for this link is that, like most cells, immune cells need zinc to undergo cell division and propagate. Zinc deficiency may result in a smaller pool of first-line-of-defense immune cells that can attack infectious viruses and bacteria. Secondly, research has found zinc deficiency decreases the activity of macrophages, a specific subset of immune cells that activates other immune cells and can engulf and dispose of cellular waste, bacteria, or like in the picture below, even cancer cells.
Delayed Wound Healing