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The importance of zinc is often underestimated. It is no coincidence that over 80% of people lack this precious trace element. About 2 g of zinc is present in the human body; it is concentrated in the muscles, bones, prostate, eyes and skin, but can also be accumulated in the bones and spleen, where it is not readily available to be released when zinc is lacking. About 1% of the zinc present in the body is lost every day, mostly through the intestines and to a much lesser extent through sweat and urine. This precious mineral is involved in a large number of enzymatic processes and has an important role in growth, development and neurological function, with a great impact on growth and the immune response. Over 300 enzymes depend on the presence of zinc, including some involved in the synthesis of DNA and RNA, others that regulate growth and development processes, as well as others that regulate immune function or are involved in digestive and metabolic functions. One example of a very important enzyme containing zinc is carbonate dehydratase, which lets the body collect the carbon dioxide produced in tissues and eliminate it through the lungs. Its role is truly fundamental, considering how many activities it is involved in. Zinc also plays an important role in ensuring the integrity of structural proteins and membranes; a zinc deficiency would expose them to a higher risk of oxidative damage and thus reduce their functionality. Its “structural” role is linked to the fact that it is involved in the creation of “collagenases”, enzymes responsible for the formation of collagen and its elimination when damaged. In the “protein” field, it should be noted that proteins containing zinc are also involved in the regulation of genome transcription and cell signalling processes and influence the release of hormones, positively influencing insulin activity. Considering the countless activities in which its presence is requested, zinc is undoubtedly of great importance, but there are no real effective biological indicators to evaluate the element’s nutritional status. Generally its concentration in plasma or serum is evaluated, but these values are not very indicative because they are not sensitive to intense variations both throughout the day and due to inflammation, so the symptoms of a marginal zinc deficiency are not very clear and are often neglected. In children living in developing countries, for example, severe growth retardation and increased susceptibility to infections have been noted. Other proven effects due to a “marginal” deficiency are the alteration or loss of the sense of taste, and a delay in healing processes.
The subjects with the greatest risk of zinc deficiency are:
– Infants, especially if premature, children and adolescents;
– Subjects suffering from malnutrition or anorexia nervosa;
– Individuals with type I and II diabetes, diseases that increase the urinary excretion of zinc;
– Individuals with chronic diarrhoea or intestinal diseases characterized by inflammation and/or malabsorption, such as Crohn’s disease or coeliac disease;
– Alcoholics, especially if suffering from cirrhosis of the liver;
– Athletes subject to intense endurance work with high levels of sweat;
– Individuals in drug therapy with tetracyclines, quinolones, bisphosphonates, chelators, anticonvulsants and diuretics;
– Individuals who take iron and calcium supplements, which can significantly reduce zinc absorption;
– Strict vegans who consume high amounts of grains and legumes: the content of phytates in these foods interferes with the absorption of zinc, drastically reducing it. It is estimated that the zinc requirements in these diets should be increased by 50% compared to individuals on an omnivorous diet.
The susceptibility to a higher attack of infections is also linked to a correct supply of zinc because it is essential for both ensuring immune function and for the development of cells responsible for innate response (neutrophils, macrophages, etc.) and adaptive response (B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes). Zinc is necessary for the production of thymulin, a hormone secreted by the thymus which is essential for the maturation of T lymphocytes. A zinc deficiency therefore makes the organism susceptible to various infectious diseases.
The use of zinc supplements in the treatment of colds is widespread. There have been several studies on this, but what initially seemed to be only conflicting data has turned out to be a scientifically proven fact by additional studies, as zinc is able to block the viral replication of rhinoviruses (the cause of about 50% of all colds) in the nasal mucosa. That is, the zinc interferes with the “duplication” of cold viruses and prevents their proliferation inside our nose, thus counteracting the development of the same cold. This means that if taken with signs of the first symptoms, it is easy to reduce the healing time and symptoms in general.
Research has also shown that adequate zinc reserves are positively associated with serum testosterone levels and preserving better sperm health. A zinc deficiency can lead to reduced testosterone synthesis in humans. Several studies have shown that zinc supplementation can increase serum hormone levels, especially in subjects with low starting concentrations (similar improvements have not been observed in subjects with normal levels). However, taking zinc after intense physical activity preserves testosterone levels which could otherwise be reduced and lead to a deficit.
As for women, research indicates that women with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) have low levels of zinc (as well as other minerals such as magnesium); it is unclear whether this is due to inadequate intake or absorption, an increase of zinc excretion or increased zinc requirements. Compared to other women, however, those affected by PCOS have been shown to consume similar levels of zinc, so most likely this is not the reason why women with PCOS have low levels. Many studies are beginning to consider the benefits of zinc to help improve many of the dermatological symptoms in women with PCOS: it is no coincidence that a zinc supplement is often suggested for women with PCOS, as it appears to be able to reduce the severity of acne. For women who also suffer from PMS symptoms such as swelling, cramps, headaches and increased anxiety, zinc can offer support for additional relief. Zinc has an important role in women in the regulation of the menstrual cycle. Zinc levels in serum during the luteal phase (about two weeks before menstruation) are significantly lower than in the follicular phase. Zinc levels have been shown to be lower in women with PMS. Low levels of zinc have also been linked to mood disorders.
Zinc supplements are available in various forms, but they do not always have an optimal absorption capacity. Our zinc supplement is in chelated form as Zinc Picolinate, the best choice for absorption by our bodies and therefore the most highly bioavailable.