Zinc, My Second Favorite Mineral

June 02, 2014

Zinc Deficiency, Common or Not? 

 Reference: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation 

 What do you know about zinc? Pretty mundane stuff and sort of boring.   Until you are deficient. You may have used a zinc supplement to help cool off a cold. Probably a bit successfully as many of us are a bit deficient.   Intake in the US is in the range of 11-14 mg, and most of the time supposedly meets our needs. 

 I first heard about it in reference to Bruce Ame’s Triage Theory and the likelihood of developing cancer. Zinc is on his list of micronutrients that are often missing if we don’t have at least 5 servings a day of vegetables and fruit.   His interest and research was about how the body develops disease based on the missing micronutrients.   He felt there was both a minimal and an optimal level to which zinc should be supplied.   Unfortunately, we focus on the minimal RDA. 

As our soils are stressed by high-intensity farming, zinc deficiency is becoming more prevalent. The first miracle I heard about with zinc was in regard to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sponsoring of zinc supplementation to mothers in sub-Sahara Africa who have children with diarrhea. Those children have very high mortality from simple viruses like Noro or Rota viruses that might give you a day or two of vomiting and diarrhea, but give malnourished African babies stress they can’t deal with. The B and M Gates Foundation has given out millions of zinc supplement packets, along with oral rehydration therapy and Vitamin A with the net effect of many millions of babies being saved. Not thousands, millions. This is one of the untold miracles being done quietly behind the scenes in small villages all over the world.   Good work Bill and Melinda. 

 But I keep hearing about zinc. One professor touted it as his second favorite mineral after magnesium because so many enzymes in the body depend on it. Clearly, zinc deficiency has been linked to mental retardation and growth retardation. What about subclinical? Just a little bit short?   We know for certain that some of our cornerstone defenses against infections are proteins called superoxide dismutases. Zinc and copper are part of their structure. Without adequate zinc, your immune system can’t function as well as it’s meant to. Our body’s ability to disarm free radicals of oxygen declines with age, so we can’t afford to be deficient in the enzyme that deactivates those oxidizing chemicals. So, it’s not just fighting infections, but also fighting oxidizing chemicals and aging.   So then the corker comes when I learn that zinc is critical for the maturation of sexual function and hormone production. Without adequate zinc, you can’t make enough testosterone. Women need testosterone too.   Did I catch your attention?

 WWW. What will work for me?    It’s a pretty dull topic, but the travel season is upon us. If you are going overseas where you might get an infectious diarrhea, I would advise you to take zinc along. How about 25 mg a day? That’s what I did the last time I traveled overseas and was one of a tiny few who didn’t get the “trots”. And if you are worried about your energy and testosterone production, you might even want a bit more. If you take 50 mg a day, make sure you get some copper because, by itself, you will become copper-depleted.   Zinc, it’s not just for batteries or change in your pocket. And one more time, Good Job, Bill, and Melinda.   

 Pop Quiz

  1. Zinc is a common trace mineral we get plenty of in our diet. T or F.                Answer:  According to the FDA guidelines, we should have about enough to meet minimal dietary requirements. The issue is whether minimal is optimal, or really even enough.
  1. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given doses of 1 mg to third-world country villages, helping save millions of children from simple diarrhea. T or F               Answer:   True
  1. Zinc turns on your immune system to fight infection better. T or F                  Answer:  True
  1. Zinc is a critical component of superoxide dismutase, a protein that disarms free oxygen radicals.   T or F                      Answer:   True
  1. Zinc helps men make testosterone.   T or F                      Answer:   True
  1. Zinc deficiency may contribute to developing cancer. T or F                    Answer:   True
  1. Our soils have plenty of zinc in them. T or F                    Answer:  False (Actually, the zinc may be there but not in a form that plants can absorb. )