It’s an essential mineral that plays in important role in our immune function, but what are the other health benefits of zinc?
We often focus on the best supplements for muscle growth, but it’s important to also look after the rest of your body too. Zinc is an ‘essential mineral’, which simply means our bodies can’t make it on their own. It’s critical to the function of more than 300 enzymes in our bodies – helping nerve function, metabolism, digestion and many other processes.
Although our bodies cannot make zinc, it is still the second most abundant trace mineral within us, after iron, and is present in every cell. But because we can’t naturally produce or store zinc, it’s important that we get enough of it through our diet, or through supplements.
What are the health benefits of zinc?
“Zinc has numerous functions in the human body and is essential for healthy skin, nails and hair growth,” says nutritionist Milda Zolubaite. “It keeps our immune systems strong and plays a role in wound healing. It’s particularly crucial for men’s fertility and libido, too.”
Importantly, zinc has been shown to decrease the risk of heart attack and to slow the progress of macular degeneration – an eye disease that can cause blindness in older adults.
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It can significantly reduce the risk of other age-related diseases, too, including pneumonia and infection, as well as improve flu vaccination response and boost mental performance.
One of the most immediate health benefits of zinc is reducing the duration of cold symptoms, which is why you’ll often find it added to nasal sprays, lozenges and other natural cold treatments. So, if you’re feeling under the weather but want to keep up with your training, look for cold remedies with added zinc.
Zinc also alleviates the effects of diarrhea, helps blood sugar control, reduces the inflammation of acne and helps us to taste and smell properly.
So, should you be taking zinc supplements?
A balanced diet should give you all the zinc you need. Good sources of zinc include red meat, pork, chicken, shellfish and dairy produce. If you’re vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian, however, it may be worth taking zinc supplements, or making sure you include plenty of cereals, nuts, whole grains, beans and seeds in your diet.
How much zinc do you need?
Zinc is a trace mineral, so you only need a small amount every day. However, getting the right amount is especially important as you grow. Children and teens need to have zinc in their diet to help their physical development.
“Men need around 11mg of zinc daily and this can be obtained by eating zinc-rich foods like oysters, beef, lobster, pork, chickpeas, almonds, and pumpkin seeds,” says Zolubaite.
(It’s worth noting that alcohol can stop the body from absorbing zinc, as can some vegetarian protein sources, such as legumes.)