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The many roles of zinc - a vital immune nutrient

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

Zinc is one of the most widely prescribed essential trace minerals in clinical practice.

This mineral has a role in many bodily functions: it is vital for immune health, eye health, skin, night blindness, metabolism (it is necessary for the production of stomach acid), brain health, liver function and more. Zinc is involved in more than 300 enzyme reactions in your body!

Foods rich in zinc include seeds, nuts, dairy, red meat, shellfish, legumes, eggs and whole grains.

There are a number of ways to test for zinc deficiency: plasma, serum, the zinc taste test, and other blood test markers.

Naturopathically we can assess clinical signs that may point to signs of mild to moderate zinc deficiency. These include: white spots on the fingernails, poor taste, slow wound healing, blepharitis (inflammation around the eyelid), lack of an appetite, tendency to stretch marks, impaired concentration, anaemia, depression, and in males, low sperm count, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and erectile dysfunction.

So who is at risk of zinc deficiency?

- those who have a diet high in processed foods (teens, young adults)

- those who are taking gastric acid suppressing medication (such as losec, omeprazole)

- heavy drinkers

- pregnant or lactating women, toddlers, adolescents, institutionalised elderly people

- those who suffer from Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, malabsorption, diabetes, kidney disease

- those taking certain medications

- vegetarians (this is due to the vegetarian foods that are highest in zinc are also high in phytates, which bind to zinc and inhibit absorption.)

What is the best form of zinc for me?

As zinc is not easy to absorb it is important to get the best form for your particular needs with the correct co-factors for your needs and to take it appropriately. I use a few different products containing zinc in clinic depending up what condition and symptoms are being addressed.

The most bioavailable forms of zinc are: zinc picolinate, zinc glycinate, zinc citrate, zinc gluconate, zinc acetate (often used with lozenges) and zinc methionine.

Those with the least bioavailability are: zinc sulphate (which can also cause gastric upset), zinc oxide, zinc aspartate and zinc carbonate.

Zinc makes me nauseous!

Although it is best to take zinc on an empty stomach at least 3 hours away from food, medication and other mineral supplements - if you find it causes nausea or gastric upset it can be taken with, meat, fish, eggs, sprouted or fermented vegetables.

Most importantly: take zinc at a different time as grains, legumes and nuts (as they are all high in phytates and will inhibit absorption.

If you feel that you may be deficient in zinc, come in for a zinc taste test.

References upon request.

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