ALWAYS FEEL LIKE YOU'RE GETTING SICK? YOU COULD BE MISSING THIS IMPORTANT MINERAL
The wellness world is abuzz about zinc, namely because of its reputation as an immunity superstar — something we’ve all been especially focused on boosting over the last few years. But there’s so much more to zinc than its stay-healthy powers. “Zinc is an essential mineral that is crucial for various physiological processes in the human body. It falls under the category of trace minerals, meaning that it is needed in small quantities but is still vital for maintaining overall health,” explains Abigail Basson, PhD, RD, LD, a registered dietitian and NIH-funded instructor in the department of nutrition at the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Experts say that it’s pretty easy to get enough zinc through your diet because we need relatively little of it and so many foods are sources of it, including:
- seafood (particularly oysters and shellfish)
- beef and pork
- whole grains (and fortified cereals)
- nuts and seeds
But if your diet isn't the most balanced or you're a strict vegan, it’s still possible to become deficient in it. “A zinc deficiency can lead to a weakened immune system, problems with growth and development, skin disorders such as acne, and difficulty healing wounds, as well as poor appetite and hair loss,” says Serena Poon, certified nutritionist, celebrity chef and longevity wellness expert.
Top health benefits of zinc for women
- It supports good immunity. “Zinc is essential for a robust immune system — it helps in the development and function of immune cells, supports the body's defense against pathogens that can make you sick, and plays a role in regulating a healthy immune response,” explains Basson. Zinc has even been shown to potentially shorten the duration of the common cold when taken in lozenge form, Poon adds. You’ll know that your immune system needs some love if you notice you’re getting sick more frequently or can’t seem to heal as well from injury or infection.
- It helps reduce inflammation. It’s important to keep tabs on inflammation because when it becomes chronic (translation: it’s constantly present in your body) it may increase your risk for things like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain cancers. But, “zinc has anti-inflammatory properties,” says Laura Iu, R.D., a certified intuitive eating counselor in New York City.
- It boosts bone strength. Studies suggest that it’s an essential mineral for building and maintaining strong bones, which is super important to help prevent fractures or conditions such as osteoporosis. “Zinc supports the activity of cells responsible for bone formation and helps regulate bone remodeling processes that occur throughout life,” Basson says.
- It is important for reproductive health. You may not realize how much nutrition can impact your hormonal balance and function, and in turn, your reproductive system. “Zinc contributes to hormone regulation and supports normal ovarian function,” Iu says. “It’s also essential for sperm production and maintaining healthy testosterone levels.”
- It helps you smell and taste. “This mineral helps maintain the integrity of taste buds and olfactory receptors, which contributes to how we perceive flavors and aromas,” explains Basson. This means that zinc may be helpful for people who are malnourished or going through cancer treatment, Iu adds, two scenarios when appetite may be an issue.
- It is great for your brain. It plays a role in brainpower by supporting cognitive processes and neurotransmitter function, Iu says, and “some studies even suggest that zinc may protect against age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”
- It aids in wound healing. If you have a cut, scrape or other ouch, loading up on this mineral may help you heal better and faster. “Both minor and more serious injuries can benefit from zinc’s healing powers,” says Iu. “It helps with cellular health and collagen formation.”
- It is good for your skin. The antioxidant activity of zinc may be why it’s beneficial to skin health. “Zinc’s antioxidant properties help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals and helps reduce oxidative stress,” explains Basson. And zinc’s anti-inflammatory action may also help improve acne, Iu adds.
- It helps your eyes. “Zinc is part of a collection of vitamins and minerals that may slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration,” says Poon. It also plays a role in overall vision health, particularly that of the retina. “Zinc is involved in the synthesis of melanin, a pigment that helps protect the eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays,” Basson adds.
- It plays a role in heart health. It helps maintain healthy blood vessels and regulates blood pressure — all factors in maintaining a strong heart. "Some studies have shown the association between zinc deficiency and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but more research is needed,” Basson says.
- It is crucial for growth and development. Little ones need zinc to grow big and strong. “It supports DNA synthesis, cell division and protein production, which sets the foundation for bone development, maturation and overall healthy growth during these critical stages of life,” says Iu.
- It helps keep blood sugar balanced. Steady blood sugar helps with everything from mood to energy, and if you have diabetes, keeping it in check is an important factor in preventing complications; research shows that zinc is a nutrient that can be beneficial in this area. “Zinc is involved in the synthesis, storage and release of insulin, a hormone that helps with blood sugar regulation,” Basson explains.
How much zinc do women need?
Most adult women need a recommended 8 mg of zinc daily to support optimal health, but pregnancy or certain health conditions may impact that requirement (and children need much less), so always talk to your doctor about your ideal intake. If you suspect you may be low in zinc, talk to your doctor — they may order a blood test or recommend taking a supplement.