Zinc is an essential nutrient that is found in every cell in your body. It is a very important mineral but one that is quite often overlooked.
According to Wikipedia - Zinc is an essential mineral of "exceptional biologic and public health importance". Zinc deficiency affects about two billion people in the developing world and is associated with many diseases. In children it causes growth retardation, delayed sexual maturation, infection susceptibility, and diarrhea, contributing to the death of about 800,000 children worldwide per year.
Zinc is critical for many of the aspects of a cell's (and therefore your) metabolism. Over 100 enzymes require it in order to help perform the day to day functions of the body. Some of these biochemical activities include protein digestion, energy production, amino acid and bone metabolism, insulin production (it helps balance blood sugar levels) and the utilization of Vitamin A.
Zinc supports your body's normal growth and development especially during pregnancy and early childhood through age 8. It is also necessary in order to maintain a normal immune system that functions properly. On top of that it is also required in order to have a proper sense of taste and smell.
If that wasn't enough, is helps in protein synthesis (production) and in cell division including the synthesis of DNA - your body's genetic code.
Zinc even opposes toxic metals like mercury and pushes them out of your system before they can do damage to things like your brain and nervous system.
Zinc plays a very important role and is actually one of the unsung heroes of the brain. Its necessary role in cell division including the proper functioning of RNA and DNA make it critical during the formation and growth of the brain. Many of the brain enzymes are very zinc dependent.
Lack of zinc has been shown to produce lethargic children especially during growth spurts. It has also been tied to frontal headaches, depression and hostile behaviors. A study on adolescent monkey's showed that when they were deprived of zinc, they lost their energy levels and had trouble paying attention.
A separate study done on middle school children showed that when supplemental zinc was added to their diets there was improvement in both memory and attention span. In the study by the USDA Grand Forks Human Nutrition Center, kids were given 20mg of zinc 5 days a week for 10 - 12 weeks. The kids had longer attention spans and did better on tasks involving their memory than those kids that didn't get the zinc supplements.
Zinc can be found in a variety of food sources. Some of these include oysters, red meat, poultry, as well as beans, nuts and certain seafood like crab and lobster. Some plant sources also contain zinc but the phytates in plants bind with the zinc and make it much more difficult for the body to absorb.
While zinc is found in plenty of food sources, it is quite often undersupplied in the typical American kid's diet. The big reason is because the food has been stripped of the zinc (and many other essential nutrients) during the processing of the foods.
The average child does not get the US RDA of zinc from their diet and many nutritionists believe that we need far more zinc than is stated by the RDA.
When zinc levels are low, the balance of the entire nutrition system begins a downward plunge. Zinc-deficient children crave sugary foods over the more nutritious protein filled foods. The reason: Zinc helps to balance blood sugar levels so when it is in short supply these levels spiral out of control. The body craves more sugar to try and balance out this up and down wobble of the blood sugar. Besides this, zinc is also important in the digestion of protein. When the body can't digest protein it will start to reject it.
Many kids who are zinc deficient will claim to hate meat and beans but love (and gorge themselves) on high carb foods like breads and processed foods filled with sugar.
Older adults (those over 60) have also been found to have zinc deficiencies more often. 35 - 45% of those over 60 were found to zinc intakes below that recommended by the US RDA.
Because many of the good sources of zinc are related to meat, vegetarians can find themselves at risk for zinc deficiency. Vegans especially should be careful since they cut out all meat including poultry. A good supplement can help to maintain adequate levels of zinc in their system.
Because of the importance of zinc the proper functioning of many critical areas within your body, a dietary supplement may be a good option for many people.
While zinc is available from several food sources, the reduced quality of food along with the increased processing and storage times of much of our food has made it more difficult to get the required amounts.
Many doctors and the overall medical establishment are now recommending a daily multivitamin to help make up for this lack of nutrition in much of our diet. Be sure to use a safe natural multi that does not use synthetics or toxic fillers or you could be doing your body more harm than good. There is a difference in vitamins and vitamin companies.
Zinc supplements are also available as a stand-alone mineral supplement. Look for one that will give you the zinc you need (12 – 15 mg) and again one that doesn't add unnecessary fillers or additives.